Exciting hew conductors seem to be coming at us from all directions, and the latest to hit Birmingham is Gustavo Gimeno, a personable young Spanish with an elegant podium technique.
He has obviously learned valuable nuts and bolts from his time as principal percussionist with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, under the music directorship of Mariss Jansons (also the mentor of Andris Nelsons).
Here we heard Gimeno conducting the CBSO in two major Tchaikovsky pieces. In Romeo and Juliet he shaped a sensitive dynamic response and phrasing from the strings (eloquent left hand), with a gorgeous Love Theme, but the low opening wind chant seemed hard-edged and unbalanced, and the overall impression was that this was a neat but unengaging reading.
And in the Little Russian Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s second, with Ukrainian folksong quotations so poignant in these times, Gimeno achieved some seamless transitions (not least from the first movement’s introduction into its allegro vivo), and incisive string articulation, these players at the height of their game nevertheless producing a gut-warming richness of tone.
But however powerful the full orchestra sound, it often emerged as unburnished, and some conductors would have ignored Tchaikovsky’s instructions and lengthened the finale’s chilling tam-tam stroke for expressive effect.
Between these two came Prokofiev’s Spring-like Piano Concerto no.3, Simon Trpceski the witty and affectionate soloist.
This is such a special work combining dewy freshness and sardonic cockiness, and Trpceski encompassed it all. His percussive playing was delicately poised, his open-eyed ruminations hinted at greater depths, and his amazing bravura did full justice to Prokofiev’s no-holds-barred conception (in some ways Trpceski surpasses what we hear from the composer himself on an ancient recording, but do try to get hold of that).
Gimeno interjected painterly washes of orchestral contribution, but to my ears at least there were a few bars in the finale where ensemble between CBSO and soloist threatened to collapse.