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Review: CBSO at Birmingham Symphony Hall

This wonderful programme which was heartwarming confirmation of the conducting gifts of Alpesh Chauhan, alumnus of both the Birmingham Music Service and the CBSO Youth Orchestra, as well as the Royal Northern College of Music.

Alpesh Chauhan, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Without a note of his music being heard, the spirit of Wagner hovered beatifically over this wonderful programme which was heartwarming confirmation of the conducting gifts of Alpesh Chauhan, alumnus of both the Birmingham Music Service and the CBSO Youth Orchestra, as well as the Royal Northern College of Music, and now with his own orchestra in Italy.

Returning to the CBSO of which he was until recently assistant conductor, Chauhan began with a loving, magical account of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel Overture. Wagner-warm horns and generous strings unfolded forest depths, and Chauhan's gestures, well-judged and sometimes judiciously absent, were mightily effective in expression of this ineluctably glorious piece.

Even more glorious are the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, Chauhan drawing here full, rich orchestral tones, lines lithe and opulent -- and the vocal line was beautifully assimilated into this texture, soprano Talise Trevigne gorgeously open of voice and forward in projection.

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Her immersion in these poignant songs of farewell was both generous and genuine, but their progression was hindered by the need for one of the string-players to retune, thus breaking the onward flow. Perhaps such a parochial issue should have been ignored, the performance continuing to grip us all, regardless of the absence of one hapless player.

Alpesh Chauhan loves Bruckner's Third Symphony (as indeed do I), but for some reason he chose to give us the original version which emptied the audience at the Vienna premiere, and which sprawls and lumbers. The composer's acolytes persuaded him to tighten it up, and it's that revised version performed by the CBSO under Andris Nelsons a few years ago which the BBC issued on CD.

Here we admired the dedicated playing, the well-balanced sonorities, and always Chauhan's perceptive management of texture and pacing. But there was so much impatience with the score's longueurs, and a yearning for what might have been, had this gifted young conductor gone along with Bruckner's revisions.

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