Symphony in E flat
Four Norwegian Moods
The Firebird [1911 Suite]
CBSO Youth Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 29 October, 2006
Venue: Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
What would have marked the 50th anniversary of the Midland Youth Orchestra – since 2004 the CBSO Youth Orchestra – coincided with the latest stage of “IgorFest”, making it doubly appropriate that this orchestra participated.
And there could be few better choices for this hard-working outfit than the Symphony in E flat that Stravinsky completed in 1907, at the conclusion of studies with Rimsky-Korsakov and pointedly designated his ‘Opus 1’. While there are finer Russian symphonies of the period (not least Glazunov’s Eighth and Balakirev’s Second), the work has greater value than merely the name of its composer and has enjoyed the occasional airing: not least by Stravinsky, whose 1966 recording – made soon after finishing his valedictory “Requiem Canticles” – was surely a conscious conjoining of beginnings and ends.
The best approach to the piece is to pitch into it with alacrity, which is just what these players did, urged on by the enthusiastic direction of Anthony Bradbury (Music Director of the MYO forits last four years). It matters not that the opening movement is sonata-form by numbers when its main ideas are projected with such vitality, that the Largo borrows liberally from the corresponding movements of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies when its climaxes are effected with such pathos,nor that the finale is an all too ham-fisted rondo when its recurring theme generates such irresistible élan. Interestingly, the performance was least convincing in the movement its composer ‘got right’ – the scherzo, its deftly-propelled energy and recourse to its main theme, played at differing tempos or with varying rhythmic emphases for the secondary material were traits that held good for the ensuing six decades of Stravinsky’s creativity. Chances are these performers will not encounter the work again, and this performance strongly suggested that they enjoyed making its acquaintance.
Otherwise, the programme was a curious but cohesive combining of late, middle and early Stravinsky. Bradbury had opened proceedings with a trenchant account of the Greeting Prelude (1955) written to mark conductor Pierre Monteux’s 80th year – a ‘happy birthday’, serial-style. After the interval, Sakari Oramo took over for a rare revival of Four Norwegian Moods (1942) – one of several wartime works salvaged from abortive film-scores, and an affectionate take on the concept of ‘lyric pieces’ to confirm that while Stravinsky was hardly a latter-day Grieg, he clearly enjoyed pretending to be so.
The concert ended with what was billed as the 1911 suite from The Firebird, but Oramo extended this by including the ‘Berceuse’ and ‘Apotheosis’ from the complete ballet and, unlike others who have done so, retained the passage depicting Kaschei’s death (so giving the percussion players their moment of glory). Scored for almost the same forces as the ballet, this augmented suite both preserves the original’s opulence and leaves out nothing essential: a solution that should be taken up more often? The performance itself was a good one – Oramo securing a hushed intensity during the ‘Introduction’ and keen sensuality in ‘The Firebird’s Supplication’. ‘Khorovod’ was affecting without sentimentality, while the ‘Infernal Dance’ built a remorseless momentum and ‘Finale’ lacked little in exhilaration.
A fine showcase for the CBSOYO’s collective abilities, and an ideal way to round off an event that, like The Firebird itself, amply reflected the past while looking forward confidently to the future.