Symphony Hall, Birmingham
5 stars *****
Review: Paul & David Gray, 13 December 2016
Enigmatic Beauty and Flamboyance
Two days prior to their tour of China, the CBSO brought us a mostly sold out matinee performance of three favourites: beauty and passion in Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Suite; flamboyance and exuberance in Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto; majesty and mystery in Elgar’s Enigma Variations.
The concert opened with orchestra in full throttle for the Tchaikovsky. It is at times like these that one is astonished not just by the distinctive magnificence of the CBSO sound, but also by the remarkable acoustic that is Symphony Hall. The sounding chambers were thoroughly open for this vociferous opening, and the walls that otherwise divide the seats from the inner corridors fully lifted. It is as though ones very self becomes an integral part of a sound world.
The orchestra played with a rich, full bodied string tone and crisp, characterful woodwind. In the Rose Adagio the strings played the main melody with a pianissimo of exquisite tenderness. If one is to find fault anywhere in this concert – and it is extremely difficult to do so – it is perhaps in the chattering horn accompaniment to this melody. Here, the horns simply played too loud, thus upsetting the balance of ensemble.
Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto in G Minor is a remarkable work which combines: a passion and contrapuntal ingenuity reminiscent of Bach and Beethoven; occasional touches of Debussy in its orchestration, plus; a tremendous sense of fun and flamboyance. In the hands of 26 year old pianist Behzod Abduraimov all of these features came vividly to life and bedazzled us. This is a young pianist to watch. Indeed, he has already played with some of the greatest orchestras and conductors in the world today.
Under the superb direction of the Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky, Elgar’s Enigma Variations felt like it had come home with the CBSO. This was an interpretation of outstanding quality, poise and majesty. The famous ‘cello and clarinet solos were played with enigmatic intimacy, and the Nimrod variation had listener’s searching for hankies to wipe away tears. The Finale brought back many of the work’s musical themes and motifs in a glorious, uplifting chorale-like, Brucknerian synthesis: truly an enigma of human creative genius.
Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky
Piano – Behzod Abduraimov
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra