CBSO Brahms review

RICHARD BRATBY HEARS THE CBSO IN WONDROUS BRAHMS

CBSO, Grazinyte-Tyla at Symphony Hall *****


You can tell a lot from the opening of Brahms's Second Symphony. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO began it as if in mid-flow: a broad, sunlit river of music, rolling out as if it had already been going on somewhere else already, and we'd only just tuned in.

And if there's one characteristic that defined this performance, it'd be that fusion of inevitability and wonder. There was more to it than just that, of course: colour glowed from every bar, realised in vivid but unfussy detail. Timpanist Matthew Hardy showed that, as well as dealing thunder, he could flush the whole orchestra with deep, dark warmth; and Gražinytė-Tyla played the third movement as a wind serenade, before running without break into the finale – in keeping with her overall vision of the work as a single, exuberant symphonic sweep. Everything pulled towards the final, ringing trombone chord; it worked like a particularly sweet dream.

The Brahms followed one of those superficially incongruous first halves that turn out to be nothing of the sort. Gražinytė-Tyla's swift, light-fingered approach to Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin gave it the sense of something slipping through the fingers. Guest-leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, harpist Katherine Thomas and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic stood out as first amongst equals when a sextet of CBSO players gave a balletic, playful account of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro.

The concert had begun with Honegger's Pastorale d'été, and Gražinytė-Tyla deftly layered the opening string phrases, set them gently rocking, and then let Elspeth Dutch's long horn solo float far above in undisturbed stillness. It was a surprise of the best sort – and since everyone now seems to have a view on what Mirga should conduct next, might I put in a bid for Honegger's delicious Fourth Symphony?

Richard Bratby

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