Yamada conducts Bernstein - CBSO at Symphony Hall

This year is Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, with musicians everywhere celebrating the irreplaceable composer, conductor and musical polymath. The highlight of Kazuki Yamada’s first concert as the CBSO’s new Principal Guest conductor was a wonderfully invigorating performance of the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story complete with finger-snapping and cries of “Mambo!” from the players. The playing sparkled and mixed the musical ingredients perfectly; a rainbow of carefully shaded and crisply delivered rhythms, street-wise New York pizzazz and just a dash of schmaltz. There were magical moments too, like the pizzicato strings for Maria and the all stops out Mahler-on-the-Hudson orchestration of Somewhere. Every section took a fully-deserved bow and Yamada, a diminutive bundle of bobbing energy, got a rightly raucous reception.

Korngold’s violin concerto got a sniffy critical drubbing when it was premiered in 1947 – as did almost everything tonal and tuneful – but is now getting the recognition it deserves. Vilde Frang gave a fantastic fulsomely passionate performance here two years ago but Baiba Skride’s more inward and subtle interpretation was equally satisfying. She started daringly slow and quiet, a mere wisp of sound heard from afar – music as Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquillity” – the central Romance warm but not over-heated and the finale’s humorous high-jinks (with characterful brass and wind playing) were delightful. Yamada conducted a lithe performance of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, capturing some of the composer’s Gallic drollery, but the profile of some dances could have been sharper, and a strong, viscerally punchy La Valse.

--Norman Stinchcombe

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