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Tango, Latvian style; CLASSICALREVIEWS.

CBSO/SYMPHONIC DANCES: III Symphony Hall

T he idea of a full-blown, sultry Argentian tango being written by a composer from the chilly Baltic might appear somewhat unlikely.

But Tango by Latvian composer Arturs Maskats made a lively and impressive curtain-raiser to this CBSO concert, vividly scored, clearly structured, with a soul-baring backstreet melody interweaved by counter subjects like dancers' ankles intertwining.

Andris Nelsons conducted his compatriot's music with flair and bite (and we had the CBSO's genuine Argentinian, and tango guru Eduardo Vassallo on the cello front desk). What a pity the expert bandoneon player went un-named in the programme.

Something of a breather came with Beethoven's musing, inward Fourth Piano Concerto, soloist Lars Vogt (for so long associated with this orchestra) drawing tones of immense subtlety from the piano, and making the first movement's tricky edifice all of a piece.

His pedalling was magical in the pathos of the central movement, the piano very much a lone voice against ravening strings, resolution long delayed until a crisp, exhilarating finale.

As has become charmingly customary, the players refused to gate-crash applause for Nelsons at the end of a gripping, phantasmagorical performance of Rachmaninov's valedictory Symphonic Dances.

Eventually he begged them to join in, so they reluctantly rose to share the plaudits - which had started too early (to Birmingham's embarrassment in the BBC Radio 3 broadcast), as the concluding gong-stroke was still resounding its doom around the hall.

Rating: 4/5 Christopher Morley CITY OF BIRMINGHAM CHOIR Symphony Hall James MacMillan's Seven last Words from the Cross is a work of harrowing intensity, designed to stretch choral abilities - and listeners' emotions - to the limit. Happily, though that's hardly the right word for such a grimly devout expression of faith, it came together perfectly in this stunningly accomplished performance by Adrian Lucas and the City of Birmingham Choir.

Indeed, if anyone is thinking of writing a history of the CBC (for the centenary in 2021, perhaps?), this concert must go down as one of its greatest achievements.

With its beautifully poised otherworldly qualities (and so much detailed, luminescent tone from such a large chorus) in the quietly reflective passages, to the many anguished cries of human despair ("Woman, Behold Thy Son!" and "I thirst" still linger in the memory) at moments of high drama, Lucas and his singers were totally in command of the many and varied demands this inspired - and inspirational - piece makes.

Just as important, too, were the wonderfully supportive (and much-augmented) strings of the Orchestra of the Swan, at times blistering with white-hot passion in places like the shatteringly apocalyptic "It is finished" yet, in the long unwinding postlude of "Father, into Thy hands," transporting us exquisitely into the higher realms of spiritual contemplation.

A truly moving experience in every way. Rating: 5/5 David Hart BIRMINGHAM SCHOOLS' SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Adrian Boult Hall Brahms described his Academic Festival Overture as a boisterous musical potpourri and there was plenty of vim and vigour in the performance of these bright young players.

Although this is a light-hearted celebratory piece Brahms used a massive orchestra and subjected the student song material to a full contrapuntal workout.

The players found this pretty demanding but with Michael Seal conducting - cajoling, encouraging and willing them on - they brought the piece to a resounding conclusion.

They provided strong support for guest soloist Elspeth Dutch, the CBSO's principal horn, in Richard Strauss's first horn concerto.

The horn is surely the orchestra's most intransigent instrument yet is capable, with skilled coaxing, of producing wonderful sounds.

Dutch did just that from the rousing hunting calls which frame the work to the moments of musing introspection at its heart. Choosing Shostakovich's tenth symphony as the climax of the concert was a brave one, for this is an immensely demanding work both in its length and huge dynamic range. Occasionally it proved a bridge too far for the players with wind intonation and ensemble stretched to the limits but the thundering scherzo was impressively despatched and the finale was delivered with a hefty emotional punch.

Rating: 4/5 Norman Stinchcombe CBSO/ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Symphony Hall Johannes Moser's performance of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations had true star quality.The young cellist's engagingly flamboyant manner and instant rapport with the orchestra and audience caught the eye but what really impressed was the quality of his playing.

His big rounded sound instantly engaged one's attention but his flexibility, subtle nuances of tone, and the ability to switch from swaggering exuberance to quiet and rapt inwardness made this a performance to cherish.

It was supported by excellent playing from the CBSO under Jakub Hrusa.

Hrusa had seemed inhibited and reticent when conducting Mozart's Prague Symphony, as if it were a sacred text rather than a musical score.

There was not a whiff of diabolism in the opening adagio, where the shade of Don Giovanni should stalk; the andante plodded rather than sang and the final was hardly exhilarating. He was more at home in Rimsky-Korsakov's colourful Scheherazade. This was an exhilarating performance with Laurence Jackson leading from the front - his violin made Scheherazade a silkily seductive storyteller capable of charming even the grouchiest Sultan.

The score demands telling contributions from section leaders and there were many noteworthy solos from wind and brass, but bassoonist Gretha Tuls deserves a special mention.

Rating: 4/5 Norman Stinchcombe
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 20, 2010
Words:893
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