Classical: Mixed salad with Russian dressing

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Cbso/Oramo Symphony Hall Birmingham

Cbso/Oramo Symphony Hall Birmingham

Enescu has still not made it into the mainstream. True, the Romanian- born composer and virtuoso (1881-1955) retains an honoured place as the inspired teacher of another child prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin. Yet mention Romanian music, and it is not so much Enescu's Rhapsodies as the folk- inspired dances of Bartok that leap to mind, almost as Greece tends to conjure up not so much Skalkottas as Theodorakis.

Birmingham has had a taste of Enescu before. But the massive Third Symphony, assailed this week by Sakari Oramo and the intrepid CBSO, is new fare. Oramo's passionate advocacy paid off handsomely: he served up a spine- shivering performance, which also heralded this week's handover of the enterprising CBSO management from Ed Smith to the BBC's former Proms co- ordinator, Stephen Maddock.

Enescu's Third Symphony is very much of its time: he embarked on it in 1916. The l7-minute first movement, with its shifts between dense and refined textures, has shades of gargantuan Mahler: a big canvas, in thrall to neo-romantic Strauss and Scriabin, a generous souffle of conscious or unconscious allusion - appetising, albeit not always convincing in its rather lavish gestures. Subtler detail - subliminal eddies of bass clarinet or solo violin and lugubrious surges of Mahlerian woodwind - fired the imagination more.

It was Enescu's vivid, snarling Scherzo that typefied Oramo and his team at their best. From a firefly-like opening, through its dervish-like build- up to its closing shivers of percussion - a final flourish of which Shostakovich would have been proud - it was a bewitching performance. Careful preparation had paid off: numerous strands and subtexts meet and entwine as the movement explodes. Almost as enthralling is the near-stasis and gradual emotional disengagement that characterises the Finale, a subtly orchestrated, impressionistic movement topped by a wordless chorus. From the mysterious, bell-led transition to the homing bottom C in double bass and bass drum, the sensation is purgatorial and valedictory, as if the soul, while reluctant to be snuffed out, were optimistically resigned to an ultimate, peaceful evanescence.

What sounded like an irately ciphering hearing aid failed to impinge on the delicate moments of Beethoven's Leonora No 3 Overture: cavorting solo flute, some superb pianissimo violins and the exquisite single woodwind unison interspersing the offstage trumpet calls. The string tutti confirmed what a magnificent machine the CBSO remains, just as the precise final syncopations revealed Symphony Hall's startling acoustic at its finest.

The acoustics seemed more suspect in Mozart's Piano Concerto in E flat (K482). The orchestral Legato felt almost cosily bland. A couple of brass glitches obtruded. Rather, it was the strings' muted launch into the Andante; two moments in Alfred Brendel's solo line - a wonderfully brittle sound, like a musical clock - in the first movement's cadenza; and the magician's skill with which he encapsulated the mood - part-comic, part-conspiratorially confidential - near the close of Mozart's Cosi-like Rondo that held the receptive Birmingham audience mesmerised.

Comments