CBSO/Oramo – 30 August – Playing to the World

Cockaigne (In London Town), Op.40 – Concert Overture
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

Dong Thai Son (piano)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 August, 2002
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

As the CBSO prepares to embark on European and Japanese tours, this concert of ’Classic Summer Favourites’ showed the orchestra to be in excellent shape. Sakari Oramo’s credentials in British music are well established by now, and if his incisively rhythmic approach to Cockaigne feels as much Walton as Elgar, the formal ingenuity of the overture’s formal design emerges all the more clearly – and with no lack of characterisation into the bargain.

On the basis of this performance, Dong Thai Son is more attuned to the Stravinskian (or is that Prokofievan?) element of Rachmaninov’s Paganinian wizardry than he is its rhapsodic core. Passagework in the faster variations was despatched with often breathtaking virtuosity, yet the expressive, fatalistic quality was rather passed over – not least in the immortal ’Variation XVIII’, which sounded rushed rather than passionate. No mean characterisation elsewhere, however, and with orchestral ’support’ full of incident.

Symphony Hall regulars will recall Oramo’s memorable performances of Tchaikovsky Four in December 2000. If this was a little rougher-edged, it still found an ideal balance between formal cohesion and uninhibited emotion. Aside from an over-impetuous approach to the heart-warming central section of the ’Andantino’, tempi were swift but acutely judged and well articulated. Seldom has the climactic reappearance of the ’fate’ motif stopped the ’Finale’ quite so dead in its tracks, allowing the triumphant – but never triumphalist – apotheosis to gather momentum all the more thrillingly.

There was even emotional space left for an energetic account of Sibelius’s Finlandia to round off the evening in rousing fashion.

So, adieu to the CBSO until its Proms appearance on September 11, and a fond farewell to Rachel Robson who has left her post as Press & Public Relations Manager for pastures new. I no doubt speak on behalf of reviewers everywhere in saying that her enthusiasm has always been a pleasure to encounter at CBSO concerts, and that she has more than played her part in the orchestra’s continuing success in the ’Oramo era’.

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