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Review: CBSO with Nicholas Collon at Birmingham Symphony Hall

For its first performance of the Konzertstück this century the CBSO put its own home team out front.

CBSO with Nicholas Collon at Birmingham Symphony Hall
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Conductor Nicholas Collon
Conductor Nicholas Collon

Critics like to moan that certain pieces aren’t played more often, but sometimes the reason why is blindingly clear. Schumann’s Konzertstück Op.86 demands not one but four first-rate horn soloists, and that unappetising German name conceals a gloriously entertaining concerto for four horns in close formation; a rip-roaring, red-blooded swashbuckler of a piece with romantic spirit pouring from every note.

For its first performance of the Konzertstück this century the CBSO put its own home team out front – Elspeth Dutch, Mark Phillips, Michael Kidd and Jeremy Bushell (their remaining colleague Martin Wright held the line in the orchestra – and apparently helped them rehearse too). And from the first heroic blast to the spectacular final flourish, they simply romped all over it – with conductor Nicholas Collon providing energetic, bright-eyed support. At the risk of sounding ungrateful (and with total disregard for the players’ lips), I’d gladly have heard it all over again.

Collon had opened with another rarity – Sibelius’s suite from the play King Christian II, which turned out to be rather more than just incidental music. Atmospheric and grandly laid-out, it’s unmistakably the work of the composer of En Saga and the First Symphony, and Collon approached it that way, generating an almost symphonic momentum and drawing rich, vivid sounds from the orchestra. Collon was curiously understated in Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony after the interval – though Oliver Janes’s and Rainer Gibbons’s clarinet and oboe duet in the second movement was melt-in-the-mouth stuff.

But Collon finished where he began, with Sibelius: and an epic, organic account of the Seventh Symphony that seemed to grow from the ground up and ended – as it should – with everything falling majestically, magnificently into place.

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