CBSO Shostakovich review

CBSO UNDERSTANDS SHOSTAKOVICH'S IRONY


MIRGA CONDUCTS SHOSTAKOVICH
CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
The CBSO is currently in Shostakovich mode. Not only is it orchestra-in-residence for Birmingham Opera Company's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk season, it is also presenting his two piano concertos in consecutive programmes, beginning here with an evening devoted entirely to the composer.
Familiarity with Shostakovich's idiom and mindset has brought the orchestra a sense of fluency and an insightful irony, both qualities eminently suited to the works on offer.
The rarely-heard Limpid Stream Suite (from a ballet which somehow enraged Stalinist apparatchiks) actually showed there was a lingua franca amongst composers reluctantly toeing the Soviet party line; I was continually reminded of the Khachaturian of Masquerade, Gayaneh and Spartacus. Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducted a persuasive account, and Eduardo Vassallo's extended cello solo was a masterpiece of Tchaikovsky-directed irony.
That word again, and there's irony aplenty in the First Piano Concerto, nifty and cheeky. Anna Vinnitskaya was the soloist, bringing mock-seriousness but also a blistering command of the keyboard, and Jonathan Holland was her brilliant collaborator, often tongue-in-cheek (though that's difficult for a trumpeter), but also noble in a Charlie Chaplinesque way.
We hear Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony far too often nowadays. It has become easy listening, though its premiere must have had its composer fraught with Stalin-appeasing nerves. But this account under Mirga was sweeping, structurally convincing, finding moments of lyricism amidst all the sardonic flimflam -- and Jonathan Holland was now humbly back among the orchestral trumpets!
The solo violin passages were well-taken, but isn't it about time the CBSO appointed a permanent concertmaster? It's over three years since the much-loved Laurence Jackson left for a new life in Australia, and the orchestra somehow let his equally-loved desk-partner Zoe Beyers take other paths. The CBSO has had wonderful concertmasters -- Felix Kok, Peter Thomas, Laurence Jackson -- in the 50 years of my memory. We need another one soon.
Christopher Morley

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