CBSO at the Lichfield Festival by Richard Bratby

When orchestral musicians talk about a “cathedral acoustic”, it’s not generally a compliment. But if an orchestra really has to play in a cathedral, you’d be hard pressed to find one that sounded better than Lichfield. And truth be told, it sounded as if the CBSO and conductor Edward Gardner were actually enjoying the change of scene.

At least, I don’t think I imagined it. Although the orchestra was playing with a severely-reduced string section, the dense, drowsy chords near the beginning of Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration felt firm enough to reach out and squeeze. And the players seemed to relish the bit of extra freedom – the echoes and blurred edges – in that resonant space, so different from the forensic clarity of Symphony Hall. Rainer Gibbons’s big oboe solo near the start of the Strauss soared rapturously across the strings: leader ZoĆ« Beyers replied with a violin solo of melting sweetness.

Which is not to say that these performances lacked anything in drive or clarity. Gardner saw to that, in a performance of Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony that developed a stark tragic power, and a rare outing
for Mendelssohn’s Athalie overture that set sombre brass chorales amidst string playing of swirling panache. But best of all was Schubert’s Fifth Symphony - so often reduced (particularly by period instrument groups) to a featherweight homage to Haydn. Gardner’s account was stalked by dark shadows and driven by a ferocious, energy – it’s exciting to hear that it’ll shortly be committed to disc.
Richard Bratby

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