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The Swan Birmingham Town Hall ..... LAST Wednesday's matinee was by no means a typical (whatever that might be) Orchestra of the Swan concert. Here we heard two rarish orchestrations of Debussy piano music. the world's most glamorous guitar concerto, and a boy-wonder symphony.

Nor was it typical in that David Curtis no longer commands the podium. He has moved on to cultivating an international conducting profile, and in his place OOTS are inviting a succession of guests.

And what a success Wednesday's guest proved to be, Andrew Griffiths stepping into the shoes of his popular predecessor and creating a gust of enchanting fresh air as he inspired these empathetic performers to exhilarating heights of precision and blends of colour.

Griffiths comes from a largely choral background: he conducts batonless, and Sir Adrian Boult would have had something to say about his left hand mirroring his right, but the results he drew orchestrally were hugely exciting on both sides of the footlights.

Caplet's orchestration of Debussy's Children's Corner and Busser's of the same composer's Petite Suite, persuasive and convincing both, provided gorgeous vehicles for OOTS' wind soloists and silky strings. Yes, there was an unfortunate oboe malfunction, but this was expertly and coolly handled. There was also the matter of a broken fingernail during Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto, but this did not deter soloist Pedro H. da Silva from delivering a clearly-articulated, strongly-characterised (what a range of dynamics and timbres from his throatily rich instrument) performance, and with such fleet interaction between the hands. And applause to Louise Braithwaite for her cor anglais solo in the adagio (admittedly a movement which does outstay its welcome).

Finally came the Symphony in C by the 17-yearold Bizet, again, too prolix for its ideas, but given with enthusiasm by the rejuvenated OOTS under the remarkable Griffiths, of whom I hope to hear a whole lot more.

Christopher Morley CBSO Symphony Hall ..... JUST back from a taxing European tour the CBSO were on blistering form at last Wednesday's concert. Featuring three newcomers to Symphony Hall, this was a terrific evening of orchestral colour and sonic splendour.

The young Malaysian conductor Harish Shankar established his smiling presence from the start as Ravel's 'Mother Goose' suite worked its customary magic. With reduced strings and chamber sonorities, the piece moved from delicate simplicity and a restrained coolness, gradually acquiring warmth and tenderness until 'The fairy garden' brought an ecstatic happy ending.

Is there a more sheerly beautiful opening to a 20th-century piano concerto than that of Prokofiev's Third? Prokofiev composed the work with his own phenomenal but idiosyncratic pianistic agility in mind, alongside his psychological need to startle and delight, and this performance was just about ideal in its integration of the often conflicting demands of Prokofiev's style.

After the lyrical opening, the movement went off like a rocket as young Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg gave us a remarkable display of his control of the hair-raising solo part. Layers of melody and decoration were masterfully managed and crystal clear with a luminous tone. The gear changes between the different sections and tempi were effortlessly achieved and conductor and soloist were as one. The orchestra teemed with propulsive detail and swaggered with confidence and faultless ensemble.

The elaborate variety of textures was seized upon with enthusiasm by everyone and at one point all of the fully occupied wind players were swaying in unison during a particularly rhythmic episode, like a dance band sax section. This was fabulously 'live' playing, and the whole performance was one of the utmost brilliance and virtuosity.

Little room left to enthuse about Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony except to say that CBSO, Shankar, and organist Darius Battiwalla gave it an elegant and stylish performance with surging forward momentum, an eloquently sustained slow movement and a judiciously paced finale, its cymbal-capped climaxes bringing a jubilant end to this majestic concert.

John Gough
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 26, 2018
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