Photo, Mark Allan

Monday, July 25, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Following a dashing account of the Overture to Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla – which found the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra crisply together, dynamic, and given enough time to turn a lyrical phrase, good timpani detail, too – there was Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra (1927), a very different beast to The Wreckers,, and attractive in its whimsical way, affable music (very English with some Slavic leanings) that sings and dances in the outer movements, and is more elegiac centrally, giving inviting opportunities to the two soloists, gratefully taken by Elena Urioste and Ben Goldscheider; if the piece failed to connect with me, their playing was a pleasure in itself.

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, a great work, certainly, but I regard the Third as altogether special. One big test for any conductor is the end of the first movement: any crass additions to Rachmaninov’s lower-strings (usually a timpani stroke, sometimes a bass drum/Bychkov, sometimes a tuba/Kurt Sanderling)? I’m glad to say that Kazuki Yamada left well alone. The performance had started well, very broad, intensely dark and soul-baring, the Allegro then quite fleet and light-emitting, the second subject and the rest of the exposition not indulged, if not repeated either, with passions-a-plenty in the tempestuous development, the CBSO in vibrant form. The Scherzo was brought off with panache, romance and precision, and the Adagio – opening with a lovely intimate clarinet solo from Oliver Janes – was given con amore while seeing the movement seamlessly (with a potent climax), and especially poignant in the sunset coda, with the Finale then acting as an energy-filled start to a new day, bittersweetness and striving entangled before the release of a glorious peroration. This impressive performance bodes well,

I wonder who engineered the tangible radio sound? It was excellent. And if the Smyth had a few Elgar correspondences, the real thing turned up as an encore, a rich-toned, eloquent and tender Chanson de nuit.