City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
May 4 2023
Review: William Ruff
Exciting music-making from the CBSO – but you needed your musical sunglasses
The CBSO’s new Music Director, Kazuki Yamada, certainly made his presence felt in Nottingham on Thursday evening. He’s not exactly someone who sidles onto the stage hoping not to be noticed. He has a larger-than-life personality, knows how to work an audience, loves sonic spectacle, isn’t afraid of dancing on the podium – and seems to relish the big ending with the inevitable audience response it brings. He’s going to be good for business in Birmingham and will have Nottingham audiences eagerly awaiting his next appearance.
If you feel a ‘but’ coming on, it’s just to say that listeners perhaps had to don their musical sunglasses a tad too often to filter out some of the brilliance. Take Dvorak’s Carnival Overture which opened the concert. I wonder if the opening has ever been played faster – and as for the ending, I’m still trying to catch my breath the following morning. And yet there was so much in this performance that was really perceptive and touching. The Overture’s central section was beautifully handled, fine cor anglais playing over which the flute and oboe combined magically before being answered by the clarinet, rather like a cuckoo calling from the woods. But it wasn’t long before the full orchestra returned and everything became subsumed in the headstrong energy of the music. The ending was exhilarating but somewhat breathless, Kazuki Yamada really going for broke, driving on the dance to a wild conclusion. Unsurprisingly the audience loved it.
Things calmed down for the concerto, one of the best-known in the repertoire. But spare a thought for its composer, Max Bruch. Despite all his hard work producing choral works, operas and lots of orchestral music, he is remembered today for just one piece, his Violin Concerto No 1. However, it’s a fine work it’s and one that’s nearly always at the top of the classical pops, so he could have had a worse fate. It’s full of memorable tunes and heartfelt emotion and has a distinctively concentrated feel about it.
Daishin Kashimoto was the soloist, producing lovely sounds from his instrument right from that magical opening in which the violin responds to the orchestra’s sombre phrase with a tentative rising arpeggio, as if searching for a theme. Despite Bruch’s inspiration running at white heat throughout, it’s inevitably the slow movement which delivers the greatest emotional punch. Kashimoto delivered a serene, intense performance, capturing the music’s still centre as well as its passionate outbursts – and careful not to allow its sweetness to spill over into sentimentality. The finale had, by contrast, plenty of rugged strength, dazzling pyrotechnics and theatricality, the ending’s acceleration and final dash bringing the concerto to an exciting conclusion. As an encore Kashimoto played a wonderfully tender, translucent movement from Bach’s 3rd Partita.
The Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov occupies a hugely important place in his country’s musical history but he’s another composer remembered for only a few works – in this country at least. By far and away his most famous piece is Scheherazade, inspired by The Arabian Nights, those magical, suspenseful tales told to prolong the life of the storyteller. It is one of the great Technicolor showpieces for orchestra, the whole work being not only full of oriental fantasy and exotic melodies but also a textbook example of how to get the best out of each instrument and combination of orchestral colours.
It’s a piece that demands superlative playing from each section. It’s also a work in which the spotlight fell on the CBSO’s leader, Eugene Tzikindelean, as it’s the solo violin that portrays the storytelling genius of Scheherazade, not only at the intensely dramatic opening and ending but throughout as the narrator interacts with the stories she tells. This was a lush, opulent performance capturing Sinbad’s voyage, religious mystics, young love, colourful festivals and ships crashing against rocks. Scheherazade celebrates the life-giving power of the human imagination and, on Thursday, it celebrated the power of fine musicianship to intensify the experience of being alive. Brilliant, characterful playing from the CBSO’s leader, harpist, principal bassoon, just about every other principal and indeed the whole orchestra was celebrated by the conductor in the final curtain call. This is not a concert that will be easily forgotten.
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Kazuki Yamada, conductor
Daishin Kashimoto, violin