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Review: Winter Dreams, CBSO at Symphony Hall

Tchaikovsky’s first symphony Winter Dreams is no great shakes structurally – but who cares when it teems with delightful tunes and musical felicities?

Ben Gernon(Image: Kevin Leighton)

Tchaikovsky’s first symphony Winter Dreams is no great shakes structurally – but who cares when it teems with delightful tunes and musical felicities?

Those weaknesses mean that to succeed it must be played for all it’s worth. It was here, with tyro Ben Gernon’s conducting worthy of comparison with Andris Nelsons’ white hot CBSO performance three years ago. Even the flamboyant Nelsons couldn’t match Gernon’s two-armed pectoral-clenching bodybuilder’s pose directed at the bass section, as he demanded even greater sonority from them in the finale. It worked!

If he succumbed to the temptation of lingering a little in the adagio it was understandable – the CBSO wind section’s gorgeous playing was worth lingering over. But he was ready when the mood changed: the sudden eruption of the horns, in excellent form, sounded like a summons from the deity.

The wind section had a great night with Rainer Gibbons admirable in the tricky and demanding oboe passages of Ravel’s baroque pastiche Le Tombeau de Couperin where Gernon needed to add more rhythmic bite.

Those familiar photographs of Shostakovich showing a dour, thin lipped and perpetually worried man (often with good reason) belie his wry sense of humour.

It appears in spades in his second piano concerto and the young Russian soloist Anna Vinnitskaya’s performance encompassed its wit and madcap humour – perhaps Shostakovich recalling his youth as a silent movie pianist – but she was tender and caressing in the romantic Rachmaninov-style slow movement. She chose the composer’s drolly comic Waltz Scherzo for the perfect encore.

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