CBSO – City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
January 15th 2022
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Reviewers: Paul Gray and David Gray
Coleridge-Taylor: Solemn Prelude
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2
The opening concert of the CBSO’s 2022 Spring/Summer Season was a stunning event, where two stalwarts of the orchestral repertoire – a concerto and symphony – were given exciting and altogether fresh, new readings.
The concert opened with the not so well-known Solemn Prelude by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Written in 1899 for the Three Choirs Festival, the piece clearly carries the influence of Elgar, on whose recommendation Coleridge-Taylor was commissioned to write for the Festival. It is a sturdy, workmanlike piece displaying the composer’s talent for open-hearted, elegiac melody. The orchestra delivered this with a warmth of tone conjured up by one of the most promising and vibrant young conductors of our time, Ryan Bancroft, former Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Chief Conductor designate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (2023/24).
The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto provided a superb example of a perfect union of another astonishing young performer, German-Korean violinist Clara-Jumi Kang, with the precise and incisive conducting of Bancroft, a totally attentive orchestra, and the very special acoustics of Symphony Hall.
Here, as in the Sibelius Symphony to follow, the use of silence was as important as the use of sound, and Symphony Hall was designed precisely for this. All performers were at their most precise and shaped these ever-familiar pieces into wholly new musico-acoustic experiences.
The conductor’s interpretation of these two pieces had the audience and orchestra riveted. It was such a wonderful experience to see the eyes of every player totally fixed on fresh readings of these scores by Bancroft who, in turn, rarely looked at his score himself: it was clear he knew where every single note, instrumental part and structural ‘downbeat’ lay. The players were totally under his spell and this was, frankly, breath-taking. There was a unique sense of journeying, storytelling and utter beauty of expression; what a way for the CBSO to open its new season.
Soloist and conductor created a delicious sense of duet and dialogue in the Mendelssohn. In the slow movement, violinist Kang brought out its lyric beauty, equipoise and ‘Classical’ proportionality, playing throughout with exquisite warmth and control. She brought an exhilarating feeling of fun to the irrepressible final movement where the ensemble between soloist and woodwind section was impeccable. Kang’s unaccompanied encore, a Bach Partita, made the most of the acoustics of the hall, with spellbinding use of barely-audible pianissimo and, again, the greatest respect for the very framework encompassing music – silence.
This was a most outstanding concert.
Conductor, Ryan Bancroft
Soloist, Clara-Jumi Kang