The Firebird, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Thursday 17th February 2022, 5***** Reviewers: Paul Gray & David Gray

The Firebird 

CBSO – City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Thursday 17th February 2022
Symphony Hall, Birmingham 


Reviewers: Paul Gray & David Gray

Kodaly – Dances of Galanta
Rachmaninoff – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Debussy – Nocturnes: Sirenes 
Stravinsky – The Firebird Suite (1919) 

Mihhail Gerts – Conductor
Sunwook Kim – Pianist
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
CBSO Youth Chorus (Conductor – Julian Wilkins) 

Standing in as conductor at short notice for a concert of orchestral showpieces in a performance space as outstanding as Symphony Hall cannot be an easy thing to do. However, Mihhail Gerts, an energetic, tall, and youthful Estonian, quite literally leapt onto the podium in replacement of conductor Lionel Bringuier, who was unwell.  

We, the audience, soon understood the comments of critics (as reported in the programme) hailing Gerts “a name to remember” thanks to his “astonishing precision, highly expressive gestures and warmth”. Gerts proved this entirely true in what was to be a superb concert of mostly early 20th Century repertoire. 

Few people will have heard of Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, composed in 1933 for the eightieth anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society. Now, if you have been asked to write a big piece to celebrate a big anniversary of your national orchestra, you would want to make a big impression. Consequently, this work is more like a mini concerto for orchestra, packed to the brim with wonderful solos & contrasts of instrumental ensembles, timbres, and textures, including stunning clarinet solos by Oliver Janes. Maestro Gerts really knows how to show off the full and glorious colours and virtuosity of an orchestra. 

Similarly, in the Rachmaninoff, there was a beautiful sense of light and shade, with a compelling duet and dialogue between piano and orchestra. Pianist Sunwook Kim was totally at one with the orchestra and with a gift for bringing inner melodies to the surface.  

Indeed, as an encore, Kim gave an exquisite performance of Brahms’s Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2). In this, one could almost fancy hearing an inner solo viola, or a solo ‘cello, playing with perfect, quiet vibrato, as an accompanying “song” somewhere in the inner life of the second section of the piece. Maestro Kim has a wonderful sense of the architecture of the music he performs; of its inner lines of beauty, and subtleties of melody, counterpoint, and harmony. 

It was wonderful to hear the superb young female voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus, in the Debussy. Singing from memory they combined a solidity of tone with great purity, and were, as the composer intended, fully integrated with the orchestra within a shimmering, translucent soundscape. Again, a superb interpretation and compelling performance by conductor and orchestra. 

To finish was a terrific performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite of 1919. Here, the CBSO, conductor and the many individual players and instrumental sections who get to take moments in the spotlight, were at their most precise, expressive, exciting, and resultant. Conductor Mihhail Gerts brought a real sense of a purpose of journey in his interpretation of Stravinsky’s score: electrifying.  


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