News Column

Review: Classical: CBSO/Nelsons Symphony Hall, Birmingham 32/40

May 16, 2014



At first sight, Haydn isn't an obvious passion of Andris Nelsons, whose repertoire usually has its historical centre of gravity at least a century later. But he has made a point of including works by Haydn in each of his six seasons as the City of Birmingham Symphony's music director. His latest concert was framed by two of the London symphonies, No 101 in D, The Clock, and No 102 in B flat. The final pair, Nos 103 and 104, will apparently follow next season, which will be Nelsons' last in charge of the orchestra.

It's fascinating to hear how his approach, so familiar in Brahms or Strauss, transfers to Haydn. The sound is big and muscular, but also has moments of classical delicacy. Perhaps they were made a little self-consciously rococo in the tick-tocking slow movement of 101, but Nelsons often trusted the CBSO strings to take the initiative with just occasional promptings and urgings from the podium. It was in the nickname-less 102nd that he really took charge, giving the first movement a Beethovenian fierceness, finding real pathos in the elegiac slow movement, with its solo cello threading through the textures. He delivered the symphony's teasing final pages with perfect deadpan timing.

In between came two wind concertos. The CBSO's principal oboe Rainer Gibbons was the elegant, understated soloist in, K314, the C major concerto that Mozart wrote for his instrument, while the orchestra's contrabassoonist, Margaret Cookhorn, had a new work commissioned for her. John Woolrich describes his Falling Down as a "dark capriccio with lyrical moments"; the orchestra regularly tumbles down to the depths the solo instrument haunts, while dark-hued instruments - tuba, bass trombone, bass clarinet, cor anglais - mirror its sound-world. A battery of percussion, including two sets of timpani, emphasise the general unease. It's a very skilful quarter-hour party piece for an instrument that doesn't normally get out much, and Cookhorn made the most of it.

Andrew Clements



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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