CBSO/Oramo – Bach and Beyond – 9 July

The Musical Offering, BWV1079 – Trio Sonata in C minor*
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61

Kevin Gowland (flute), Sakari Oramo (violin), Ulrich Heinen (cello) & Gary Cooper (harpsichord)*

Vadim Repin (violin)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 9 July, 2002
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

The final CBSO concert of the season, and a well-contrasted programme of relative past and present.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium (1980) has already established itself as a modern classic of the concerto repertoire. Its basis in the ’Royal theme’ that underlies Bach’s The Musical Offering is made manifest at the outset. What is almost entirely unpredictable is the extreme fragmentation to which the theme is subjected in a sequence of variations where the soloist’s inevitability of progress binds together the often-pointillist orchestral writing. The final section, drawing the arching harmonic profile of the theme into a sustained melodic threnody, feels all the more cumulative as a result.

Vadim Repin has been playing the work for some years (including a memorable account with the CBSO and Simon Rattle in the 1980s leg of “Towards the Millennium”), and his playing exhibited the control of line and attention to detail that distinguish his musicianship as a whole. At 33 minutes, this was a taut, highly-charged account that projected the music as a coherent, expressive sweep. Sakari Oramo’s handling of the intricate orchestral writing found the balance between power and precision.

One might have expected Webern’s orchestral rendering of the six-part Ricercare from The Musical Offering as an apposite opener. Instead, part two of this concert begun with ’pure’ Bach with the Trio Sonata from that opus. Ostensibly the most relaxed and ’pre-Classical’ part, its elegant lines and sinewy counterpoint were well conveyed, with Oramo displaying the same degree – albeit a very different kind – of enjoyment that distinguished his playing in György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments in May, and Gary Cooper consolidating his Baroque credentials following his directing of Handel arias for Almeida Opera earlier this month.

To finish, the most Classical and emotionally wide-ranging of Schumann’s symphonies – a tough test of interpretative prowess. Oramo did miscalculate on one or two occasions. The transition into the first movement’s main ’Allegro’ was a touch heavy-handed, and the dovetailing between ’Scherzo’ and ’Trio’ sections could have been more naturally inflected. Yet his control over the emotional surges of the ’Adagio’ was searching and inevitable, while the ’Finale’ drew to a close of unbridled triumph which was convincingly the outcome of a musical process spanning the entire work.

Generally excellent ensemble from the CBSO, and further confirmation of the expansion in variety of string tone that Oramo has wrought. At the end of his fourth season in Birmingham, the diversity and consistent quality of his work here deserves drawing attention to once again.

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