CBSO / Weller, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

Dvorak's growing confidence - he received a Viennese state scholarship from 1875, the year of the Fifth's composition - was all too apparent from the CBSO's riveting performance. From the opening bars (a magical passage for clarinets), Weller hit this symphony running, playing up the dark and dramatic in a wholly fresh manner. True, there is a pastoral underlay, evident in the Andante, as well as a bravado akin to the Slavonic Dances. But if anyone ever made a case for the Fifth being treated on a par with Dvorak's later symphonies then this superb showing did.

There are even clarinet pre-echoes of Rusalka, and of The Water Sprite in some dark horn calls (not entirely fluff-free) in the Finale. Perhaps the first movement's second tune was slightly overweighted, but the technical precision of the CBSO strings was a marvel. The protracted dominant bridge passage to the Scherzo, beautifully spun out, felt as electrifying as Beethoven, and the string-launch into the Finale - at an incredible pace - sensational. It's a piece Weller clearly relishes, and it worked.

Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, for all its charm, struck me as a bit formal, with some fuzzed strings and even wooden rote-playing at times. The chromatics lost impact too: my guess is the baby (young Siegfried) would have cried till the end, which was magical. But no one could take away from Freddy Kempf's achievement in Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. He managed a big sound, even though he brought full force to bear only in the Finale, and was once drowned out in the Allegro. But the dynamic contrasts he prised from all three movements, plus the CBSO strings' stupendous pianissimo launch to the Finale, made this one of the most beautiful performances I can remember.