CLASSICAL MUSIC / Review: Loud and lovely: Jan Smaczny on Simon Rattle's first concert of the season with the CBSO in Symphony Hall the start of the new CBSO season under Sir Simon Rattle in Symphony Hall

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For all those inclined to dismiss Schoenberg as a talentless creator of musical messes, a suitable one-word riposte would be Gurrelieder. For here the man who, for some, ruined the tune, unleashes a torrent of melody arrayed in the richest late-romantic harmony and energised by an orchestral and contrapuntal technique which rivals that of Strauss. Not an instrumental line is attenuated and the work brims with emotion, wit and irony. It knocked the socks off its first audience in Vienna - more used to panning than praising Schoenberg, they were, on this occasion, all dressed up, but with nothing to boo at.

Today it still has the power to ravish and inspire. I freely admit to loving every single purple-stained passage from its Wagnerian head to its Mahlerian toe, though a fellow concert-goer on Thursday night staggered out after the multilayered final chorus gasping for some Palestrina]

Gurrelieder is also fiercesomely difficult for the male chorus to sing. Having offered it as a 21st birthday present to their audience and themselves, the CBSO Chorus - joined by the men of the Philharmonia Chorus - acquitted themselves with their customary virtuosity. The men's 'Holla' chorus was, with the briefest of lapses, as firm as I have ever heard it, and more than a match for the orchestra. In a work where the crescendo becomes more or less redundant at an early stage, the final sunrise managed to surpass all other climaxes to deliver its torrent of light with unforced brio.

Down among the soloists not everything was as happy. Rita Hunter produced some thrillingly firm tone as Tove, but often seemed ill at ease in projecting the part. Relentlessly beautiful as the music is, it demands more involvement than she seemed to give. John Mitchinson was a convincing admirer and genuinely moving in his final heaven-storming sally. What pushed the work far closer to the edge of real drama, where Rattle seemed bent on going, was the supporting cast. Christine Cairns was a superbly compelling Wood Dove, Brian Bannatyne-Scott and Ian Caley a splendid Peasant and Fool, and Franz Mazura an ironic and magnificently resonant narrator. Perhaps the orchestra was a little too pleased with itself, putting balance at risk from time to time. But in a piece where every strand is a winner, they gave the massive score the treatment it deserves.

The CBSO Chorus's other present to itself this year was the founding of a youth choir (co-funded by Birmingham City Council) designed to put some choral spine back into the lives of children from whose schools singing has largely vanished. With the CBSO chorus as role model, the new 'Youf' version should have few worries.

Concert repeated 7pm tonight, Symphony Hall, Birmingham (021-212 3333)

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