This was an amazing concert, not least after the depressed atmosphere of the previous one. The CBSO Benevolent Fund concert is always a very special occasion, but this one was mega in significance.
Peter Donohoe returning as pianist to perform with an orchestra with which he had so many connections, but with which he hasn’t been heard for far too long, and capping even that, the return of Sir Simon Rattle to the podium that he actually built (Symphony Hall wouldn’t have existed without the input of his genius at the CBSO).
Worryingly, the invitation for him to drop everything and preside over this glorious evening came not from the management; it was left to a player to put the idea to him, and he responded with enthusiasm. It was so good to see him leaping over the risers to congratulate various musicians (even over to the foot-hills of the double-basses), and to see how much the orchestra’s spirits were lifted.
Rattle made a wonderful speech to the audience afterwards, his voice, so used to this acoustic he had helped design, carrying without the need for a microphone.
Both he and Donohoe were on fire in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto (Donohoe’s 149th performance, he told me, of what he regards as the most difficult concerto in the repertoire). Donohoe’s delivery of the solo part was formidable, crisply articulated, dynamics beautifully judged (though what state the piano was in at the end I can’t imagine), and leonine at the crowning conclusion. Rattle’s orchestra collaborated as supportive listeners, always surging and well-balanced. And many people agreed with me that this was a performance which should have been commercially recorded.
Then came Brahms’ First Symphony, Rattle conjuring a huge string sound, sonorously-phrased, concertmaster Laurence Jackson leading, a firm bass foundation (perhaps an influence from Rattle’s Berlin), and wonderful wind solos. The brass chorale in the finale was arresting.
And all of this on minimal rehearsal time, as all services were free. I want Rattle for Conductor Emeritus, and will be writing more about that.