CBSO review

BRUCH'S VIOLIN CONCERTO RESTORED TO THE STATURE IT DESERVES

CBSO
Symphony Hall ****
Ray Chen was a name new to me, and his gushing CV was less than prepossessing; but I'm so grateful to the CBSO for introducing him to a highly-appreciative Birmingham audience, and for his giving us an account of the much-loved Bruch G minor Violin Concerto which restored to the work the stature it deserves.
Chen's was an intense, well-shaped reading, fluent, seamless, and gleamingly clear in articulation, even in multiple-stopping. Melodic lines were beautifully spun (Chen has the joy of playing on the Stradivarius which once belonged to Joseph Joachim, violinistic inspiration to Schumann, Bruch and Brahms), and expressive points were always unobtrusively well-made.
I wish all soloists were as clear as Chen in their announcement of regrettable encores, here a Paganini Caprice and then I guess Chen's own fantasia on the Waltzing Matilda of his homeland.
The CBSO collaborated appreciatively in the concerto, though under conductor Daniele Rustioni their orchestral interludes were coarsely-textured and heavy-handed, much as in the Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien which had opened this attractive programme.
It had begun magnificently, with secure brass fanfares (they used to terrify me when I first heard the piece at the age of two, played on my father's Stokowski 78s), but as soon as the lilting melodies of my motherland entered, so did portentously heavy bass-lines. The effect was less than enchanting, and somehow I found myself remembering a joyous performance I'd heard from Mantovani and his orchestra on the radio in the early 1960s.
There is much Tchaikovsky influencing Rachmaninov's First Symphony, though there are extraordinarily prescient aspects too, not least the use of the Dies Irae chant which was to inform his scores to the end of his life, and a presage of the Symphonic Dances, his final work, and one which looks back poignantly to this symphony, shattered at its premiere by a drunken conductor.
Under Rustioni the CBSO gave a well-weighted reading, lithe and responsive, and with well-prepared dynamic detail. Particular plaudits to Rainer Gibbons for his eloquent oboe solos, of which there are many in this multi-layered score.
Christopher Morley

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