Michael Seal. photographs © Eric Richmond 2016

CBSO Beethoven’s Seventh

Berlioz
Rob Roy, H54 (1831)
Ravel
Tzigane, M76 (1924)
Beethoven
Symphony No.7 in A, Op. 92 (1812)

Eugene Tzikindelean (violin)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Michael Seal

Recorded on Wednesday 9th December 2020; broadcast on Thursday 28th January 2021


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 January, 2021
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

This latest in the City of Birmingham Symphony’s online concerts was centred on dance – whether that of Scottish traditional music, eastern European gypsy music, or merely those rhythms such as generate unstoppable momentum and impetus across a symphonic span.

It may rarely be heard, but Berlioz’s concert overture Rob Roy – or, to give this piece its full title, Intrata di Rob-Roy MacGregor – deserves occasional airing. One of the few results from the composer’s desultory years studying in Italy, it was withdrawn after its first performance and only revived in the middle of the last century. Berlioz’s reusing of its two original melodies, both heard on cor anglais (eloquently rendered by Rachael Pankhurst), in Harold en Italie – the soulful later theme, with its deft harp accompaniment, making up the bulk of that work’s slow introduction – sealed its fate, but both here and in those energetic sections either side with their engaging recourse to the folksong ‘Scots wha hae’, the verve with which he sets forth his scenic evocation is undoubted – not least in so uninhibited a performance as this.

The ‘rapsodie de concert’ that is Ravel’s Tzigane exudes even greater elan, its virtuosic solo writing combined with an orchestral response where elements not only of gypsy music but also klezmer and even jazz are drawn into a heady synthesis which feels none the worse for wearing its heart so uncharacteristically on its sleeve. Eugene Tzikindelean certainly had no qualms in this respect, despatching the lengthy solo introduction with unfailing panache and clearly relishing his subsequent interplay with the orchestra on route to an uproarious close.

Whether or not the ‘apotheosis of the dance’ as Wagner envisaged it, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony has seldom been equalled for a physicality such as was not to be found wanting here. Nor was this a reading in unrelieved overdrive – Michael Seal finding due pathos in the first movement’s introduction then segueing seamlessly into the main Vivace; his experience as orchestral violinist evident in the variegated string texture at the climax of the development or the start of the coda. The ensuing Allegretto unfolded with unforced sense of purpose, then the Scherzo elided artfully into and out of Trio sections whose hymnic strains exuded gravitas without risk of sluggishness. Omitting the exposition repeat perhaps sold the Finale short, yet its methodical build-up of tension towards the decisive apotheosis could hardly be gainsaid.

A performance to savour, then, and one that found the CBSO on fine form near the start of the current lockdown. Hopefully further online concerts will follow, balancing the familiar and lesser known such as the present programme achieved in an always engaging manner.

Available until Friday 26th February at https://cbso.co.uk/event/beethovens-seventh-2

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