CBSO: Igorfest, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 23 June 2005
When the CBSO gambled on the 32-year-old Sakari Oramo as its principal conductor, few guessed the heights this brilliant product of Finland's Sibelius Academy would scale with them. Make no mistake, the CBSO is on peak form.
To prove it, Oramo (now music director) and the orchestral chief Stephen Maddock have embarked on a great wheeze: the performance, over four seasons, focusing on June, of all Stravinsky's output. "IgorFest" offers endless possibilities: links-up with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the CBSO Centre for chamber-music; unusual venues; collaborations with CBSO choirs and Birmingham Rep; and staged dances from David Bintley's Birmingham Royal Ballet.
One aim is to underline how much Stravinsky we don't often hear. As Oramo sees it, Stravinsky's output and multifarious styles virtually define 20th-century music. The opening concert, meshing rare and familiar Stravinsky, made a stupendous curtain-raiser. First, the effervescent Scherzo Fantastique (1907), a work of rippling, burgeoning effects, including mellow alto-flute solo, scintillating woodwind, sneery brass, celesta, three harps. Witty, electrifying, vividly played. Then came the strings-only Concerto in D, a punchy Stravinskian Brandenburg, extrovertly syncopated, aping dance-floor music, and uplifted by some shivering front-desk playing.
The Symphony of Psalms of 1930 showcased Simon Halsey's CBSO chorus. Their launch in was splendid. Likewise, the crystalline woodwind canons of the second movement. Pithier consonants might have added edge to Psalm 150's cymbals and tubas. But the long builds were magnificent, and the drawn-out conclusion mesmerised.
What really knocked us from our seats was Oramo's ravishing second-half performance of Firebird. To advantage, the Finn sidelined the bombast and played up the mystique. Nowhere was more astounding than the long string fade-out, to almost nothing, prior to the apotheosis. An unforgettable, world-class moment.
IgorFest continues tonight at Symphony Hall (0121-780 3333; www.cbso.co.uk)
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