MUSIC / CBSO - Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture
It was almost as if 'Towards the Millennium' was with us already, with the CBSO launching into Poulenc's irreverent 1920s ballet, Les Biches, followed by Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No 1 and, turning expectation on its head, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Irritatingly, the near-genius of the programmeplanning was not matched by the enthusiasm of the performance. Les Biches was disappointingly proper, only cautiously exploring pastiche and send-up. It was hard to imagine anyone being offended by a rendition such as this. Beethoven's Fifth promised more, with brisk tempi and the determination to exclude unnecessary bombast.

But for some reason all this virtuous endeavour seemed unable to deliver either an invigoratingly whimsical Les Biches or a convincingly bracing Fifth Symphony. These were interpretations in the process of development, not finished products. Never mind, their day is yet to come. Meanwhile we had the inestimable delight of a near-perfect rendition of Szymanowski's first Violin Concerto. Thomas Zehetmair's playing contained a miraculous combination of passion, intelligence and understatement; it would be difficult to imagine a more considered or considerate performance. Rattle and the orchestra responded to Zehetmair's playing with extraordinary warmth.

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