CBSO Beethoven and Stravinsky review

A PETRUSHKA OF GLITTERING CLARITY

BEETHOVEN AND STRAVINSKY
CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
It's said you can often tell who is conducting from the nature of the sound they draw from an orchestra. But what happens when their sound has multiple personalities, as revealed in this polarised programme (Beethoven and Stravinsky) under the young Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno?
The sheer weight of tone he produced from the CBSO at the start of Beethoven's Egmont Overture was breathtakingly arresting, each chord attacked with the depth of an excavator, leading into an allegro irresistible in its forward momentum, unleashing energetic reserves of power, and ending in a coda where timpani thrilled and horns blazed.
More Beethoven followed, bringing more minor-key solemnity, Jeremy Denk the soloist in the Third Piano Concerto. Gimeno's opening tutti was both sombre and athletic, Denk's entry bringing a warmly-balanced piano tone and a sure sense of organic flow, culminating in a formidable cadenza.
Denk's approach to the otherworldly slow movement was almost Chopinesque in the delicacy of the rippling right-hand thirds and the filigree of decoration, and the finale was crisp and fresh-faced.
What irritated, however, was his habit of frequently turning his head to conspire with the audience, as though to indicate "this is a good bit, isn't it" -- a mannerism far more appropriate to his brilliant encore, a jazzy, uproarious transcription of the Pilgrims' March from Wagner's Tannhauser. Was this Denk's own?
Finally came the alter ego of Gimeno's weighty tone, an ability via his elegantly expressive beat to deliver with glittering clarity all the multi-layered textures of Stravinsky's Petrushka. Rhythmically incisive, sound-images swirling like collages, and clearing the way for amazing solos from every department -- Ben Dawson's fiendish piano, Jonathan Holland's supremely secure trumpet outstanding.
But Gimeno also found amid this teeming pageantry (the final Shrovetide Fair a counterpart to the excitement of the final scene in Wagner's Meistersinger) moments of lyricism, and a suspense of excitement which led to an ending which was genuinely tragic.
Christopher Morley

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