CBSO pre-Prom review

CBSO AND A HANDSWORTH-BORN COMPOSER

CBSO
Symphony Hall ****

It was the young star cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who attracted the near-capacity audience – but it was a similarly precocious Birmingham woman who stole the show. Handsworth-born Dorothy Howell was just twenty-one when her symphonic poem Lamia was performed at the 1919 Promenade Concerts. It is amazing to think that this was her first orchestral work – there is such assured handling of large forces in a piece inspired by Keats' romantic poem. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla brought out all its shimmering beauty; the sighing woodwind-led opening, central dance episode and final melancholy love-lorn theme for solo violin. How heartening that the CBSO will take Lamia to this year's Proms, a century after its debut. Smart programming to complement it with Oliver Knussen's The Way to Castle Yonder which similarly evokes mystery and magic albeit in a different musical idiom.

The public relations puffery on the internet says that Kanneh-Mason was inspired by Jacqueline Du Pre's classic recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto. It didn't sound like that. He was more introspective; emotion recollected in tranquility rather than heart-on-sleeve, resignation rather than raging against the dying of the light. It's a perfectly valid approach – working best in the scherzo – but sometimes sounded under-projected. It'll sound more impressive in the closely-miked Proms broadcast. Mieczsław Weinberg's Symphony No. 3 (revised 1960) has a charming folk song-influenced second movement – bringing appreciative smiles from the audience – and a rousing finale for the Soviet musical commissars. Gražinytė-Tyla made the most of the lightweight work aided by excellent CBSO playing.

Norman Stinchcombe

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