Four Capriccios, Op.9 Bartók
Piano Concerto No.3 Stravinsky
The Firebird Suite (1945)
Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
Anu Komsi (soprano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo
Oramo and the CBSO play Kurtág- 2nd May
Thursday, May 02, 2002 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
In succeeding Simon Rattle as Music Director of the CBSO, Sakari Oramo had a tough act to follow. He has done so admirably. Bringing in his own ideas, repertoire and style, Oramo has established something definite in his tenure. Where repertoire is similar Sibelius for example Oramo has brought distinctive interpretations to bear (as his Erato recordings testify). Not intended as parochial, I particularly welcome his inclusion of British music not only the big guns (Britten, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Walton), but less-travelled figures like Bax, Bridge and Foulds. Such an interest was perhaps unexpected, but Oramos inclusion of the highways and byways of this islands music is appreciated; I heard last December an individual and memorable account of Vaughan Williamss Job in Birminghams Symphony Hall.
London (Proms aside) has not been on the CBSOs itinerary for a while now, so this appearance and the one the week before for the South Banks Kurtág celebrations will hopefully establish a regular pattern of the CBSO gracing the capital.
Richard Whitehouse has written fully on this concert. Suffice for me to mention the thoroughly well prepared and concentrated account of Kurtágs Stele, its vast orchestral resources pared to a Webern-like economy to emphasise variegation and harmonic expedience; the final section was hypnotically slow and intense. The Capriccios were a real discovery. Kurtág enters a Ligetian soundworld and pays homage to Bartók; this Hungarian line affords Kurtág a base to spin an individual and engrossing chamber-group commentary (including the indigenous cimbalom) for the sopranos sexually-orientated verse of István Bálint. This vivid performance revealed the potency of Kurtágs settings.
Bartók himself was heard in the valedictory piano concerto (the closing bars courtesy of friend Tibor Serly). Theres no doubting Zoltán Kocsiss formidable technique or his acute understanding of Bartóks expression. Yet this totally unsentimental performance rarely tugged at the heartstrings; and surely there are passages that should. The chorale with which the piano enters in the slow movement needed a crucial extra degree of poise, and there were other paragraphs that were ridden over in a structural agenda that belied the musics heart. Not the full story.
Oramo offered a crisp accompaniment, not always at one with Kocsiss masterplan, and completed the concert with an excellent 1945 Firebird Suite (the last of the composers versions for playing this music: complete 1910 and suites 1911 and 1919). Helped by Stravinskys most transparent orchestral option, Oramo drew a well-balanced, brightly detailed response from his Orchestra, one expressive and deftly articulated with some fine solo work, not least Colin Parr (clarinet) and Elspeth Taylor (horn).