John Wilson isn’t the CBSO’s only regular guest conductor, but he’s probably the only one with his own Twitter fan club. That’s mostly down to his performances of classic movie musical scores with his own orchestra, but on the strength of this account of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, anyone who loves British music should be clicking “Follow” too.
That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise - Wilson’s love of Vaughan Williams is no secret. Still, enthusiasm is one thing. A performance of this freshness, scope and sheer beauty is something else altogether. It’s partly about the sound. Wilson has a knack for making an orchestra glow, and the CBSO responded with ardour. The way the tone swelled with warmth in the first movement, as Vaughan Williams quotes his own ‘Alleluias’, sent waves of shivers down the spine.
It’s not just about sonority, though. In Elgar’s Sea Pictures , Wilson and the CBSO surged and flowed around Alice Coote’s smoky mezzo, giving her both space and support to draw some troublingly dark and intimate things from these much-misunderstood songs. And in Bax’s The Garden of Fand , Wilson shaped long, sweeping phrases, pushing the music urgently forward while bringing out all the swirling details and iridescent greens and purples of Bax’s art nouveau seascape. Incredibly, this is the first time the CBSO has played The Garden of Fand . From the streaming passion with which the violins sang the central lovesong, we shouldn’t have to wait 100 years for the second.
But still, the enduring memory of this concert will be the final bars of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony. As the CBSO’s strings quivered with quiet rapture and Symphony Hall lit up with sound, Wilson offered the most eloquent possible ripost to those misguided souls who still pin labels like ‘pastoral’ and ‘placid’ on this visionary music. Heartbreaking – and sublime.