I’ll admit, I went for the Shostakovich. I went for the Britten too. I didn’t go expecting to like the Thorvaldsdottir, a CBSO Centenary Commission (in conjunction with the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and Iceland Symphony Orchestra), but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard many commissions in my time, and very few stick in the mind. Most disappear from the orchestral repertoire fairly promptly, and few transfer well to recordings. I hope that this piece, Catamorphosis, from composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir will be performed again. She was in the audience for its UK premiere, and she seemed, justifiably elated taking the applause at the end.
Whilst, like a lot of modern music, it evolved more as a soundscape than a piece littered with memorable tunes, it was intriguing. The small, but appreciative audience, were captivated. The CBSO’s playing was measured, with great clarity. There were moments of great tenderness, particularly from the strings, which periodically injected some beautiful textures, underpinned by the sweeping sounds of the percussion. I’d be lying if I said I understood what the work was about, but it was nevertheless intriguing. A quick search online reveals there are seven sections to the work. The programme note gave hints, but could have been clearer.
The first half of the concert concluded with Britten’s Symphonic Suite from Gloriana. Whilst there were some familiar melodies, it was a work I’ve not heard before in its entirety. The CBSO played with real panache and dexterity. There was a beautiful oboe solo from within the orchestra’s ranks, and the commitment of the orchestra to sympathetically underpin this was there for all to see.
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The centrepiece of the concert was Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto. It’s not an easy piece by any stretch of the imagination, and one could quite understand why the exuberant soloist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja had the sheet music to hand. After what seemed like an uncertain opening, it was clear that the soloist, who played barefoot, knew the work inside out. Communication between soloist, conductor and orchestra was outstanding. Kopatchinskaja’s playing was, at times, other-worldly, yet at others, literally taking her off the ground. She navigated the Shostakovich with what seemed incredible ease, and at its conclusion, the audience went wild.
Following the Shostakovich, Kopatchinskaja was joined by CBSO bassoonist, Nikolaj Henriques, for an encore-duet. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear anything she said, so I’m none the wiser what the piece was. Please, give the soloist a microphone if they want to introduce their encore!
We could have happily gone our merry way after the Shostakovich, but the concert concluded with Britten’s evergreen work, the Four Sea Interludes. It was a fitting end to a breathtaking concert, and by the 4th movement, ‘Storm’, it seemed the CBSO’s percussionist’s had little left to hit! Special mention should be made of the conductor, Ludovic Morlot, who led from the podium with real grace and understanding. Both he, music and orchestra seemed a perfect match.
Overall, it was, some might say, a risky programme, but as ever, the CBSO pulled it off. The commission was intriguing, the violin soloist, breathtaking, and both orchestra and conductor on top form. If only more people had been there to hear a fabulous evening of music, something I always consider to be a great privilege.
SHOSTAKOVICH’S VIOLIN CONCERTO
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Wednesday 15th June, 2022, 7:30pm
Patricia Kopatchinskaja violin
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)
Ludovic Morlot conductor