Four Seasons, Town Hall, Birmingham, The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) 22 April 2023, 5***** David Gray & Paul Gray

Schubert (arr. Mahler) – Death and the Maiden * VivaldiThe Four Seasons * Piazzolla (arr. Desyatnikov) The Four Seasons of Buensos Aires

A work that has been so often performed, so frequently recorded and which is such a recognisable part of the backbone of the classical music broadcast repertoire – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons presents many challenges for the performer. Not least of these challenges is how to find something new and fresh to say.  The search for this prompts many interpreters to reach for mannerism, reinvention and gimmicks.

The strings of the CBSO, fronted by their outstanding leader, Eugene Tzikindelean, eschewed the above approaches and opted to simply play the thing, with imagination, elegance, ensemble tight as a Baroque Courtesan’s corset, and flawless technique.  Incisive and unanimous in their attack, the band created an exciting feeling of urgency and spontaneity. This was an entirely fresh, new and utterly thrilling reading, and it is clear that the CBSO admire, love and respect their leader, Eugene, and judging by the rection of a packed audience, this magician of a violinist now has hundreds more devoted followers. Sensational stuff: Bravo Maestro Tzikindelean.

The solo playing was both precise and characterful.  The duets between the lead violin and the other players which pepper the work were delivered with a real sense of mutuality.  This was particularly true when Tzikindelean joined with the CBSO’s excellent lead ‘cellist Eduardo Vassallo in passages that were intimately conversational in their ease and shared understanding. 

This approach polished the music and allowed it to shine out.

The four concertos of the Vivaldi were interspersed with four Piazzolla Tangos.  These dances, each descriptive of a season in Buenos Aires, were arranged by Leonid Desyatnikpov for the same forces that Vivaldi employed in his Four Seasons.  These are complex, colourful & evocative works; and great fun.  Tzikindelean brought steel and passion to the solo passages.  And the whole ensemble accommodated some dizzying rhythmic complexities to bring the bustle of the Argentine Capital to vibrant life in Birmingham Town Hall.

The Piazzolla pieces were a wonderful counterpoint to the Vivaldi, allowing us to view the familiar in an unfamiliar context.

The evening opened with another familiar work viewed from an unfamiliar perspective – Schubert’s mighty Death and the Maiden Quartet, made mightier in an arrangement for full string orchestra by Mahler.  Any enlarged arrangement of a quartet brings fears that the intimacy and feeling of personal communication inherent in the chamber original might get lost.  Not so here. Playing without conductor, but clearly led from the violin by Eugene, the band delivered an intense and detailed reading.  They maintained a flawless ensemble with every individual player giving their total attention to the others around them. Again, a terrific sense of the conversational and of the intimate in this radiant and emotionally moving performance.

This was a very complete and satisfying concert, intelligently programmed and delivered with panache. Hat’s off to the CBSO Strings and the genius of their leader.

Eugene Tzikindelean – Violin/Director

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)

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