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Full of Vitality

Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Schubert from
the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


The overture to Glinka's opera Ruslan and Lyudmila has tempted a number of interpreters into some impossibly hectic tempi. Mark Wigglesworth (replacing an indisposed Walter Weller -- Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 23 March 2009) set the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra a cracking pace that nevertheless stopped short of silliness, and gave the cellos space to produce some lovely singing tone in their lyrical tune.

As the soloist in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, Sergey Kuznetsov combined power with delicacy and sparkling clarity in runs. The orchestra responded with a mixture of silky tone and whiplash precision. There were, though, moments when the tension relaxed a bit too much in the first movement's lyrical episodes. A shame, because it lessened the impact of what, on its own terms, was one of the most compelling performances of the slow movement I've heard, dreamy in the outer sections, mercurial in the central scherzo -- virtually an entire Chekhov drama condensed into seven minutes. In the finale, Kuznetsov and the CBSO resisted the temptation to overplay their hand in the big tune's first appearance, while the orchestral balance highlighted some of the woodwind writing, giving the quicker music a popular carnival touch that aligned it with, say, the finale of the Fourth Symphony more than I think I've ever heard before.

Schubert's Symphony 9 received a performance full of vitality. The first and last movements were swift but not hurried, and the broken-off climax in the second movement had real dramatic impact. As in the Tchaikovsky finale, woodwind were to the fore in the overall balance, with the clarinets, in particular, giving the scherzo a delightful rustic tang.

Copyright © 4 April 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK


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