Gabriela Montero started brilliantly – the opening chords’ crescendo in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto graduated perfectly with an undertow of menace which made the escape into the big sweeping melody more effective. The famous slow movement’s romanticism was lush but never over-indulgent.
The finale crackled with energy with the soloist backed to the hilt by the CBSO under Michael Seal. For an encore she wanted to improvise on a theme sung by a member of the audience. Cue protracted embarrassment. It may work in Latin America – from the inhibited British came only nervous mumbles. In desperation an orchestra member whispered a suggestion. Montero embarked on a cascade of thunderous octaves and sub-Lisztian bluster. Of the improvisation’s supposed subject – Madonna’s chirpy ditty Like a Virgin – I discerned not a shred.
The suite from Carmen, Rodion Schedrin’s ballet score based on themes from Bizet’s opera was delightful. He uses only strings and a variety of percussion with amazing results – laugh-out-loud in places (like Malcolm Arnold’s musical jokes) but gorgeous in the divided strings of the Flower Song. Seal polished every musical episode until it glowed and hats off the to CBSO’s dextrous and versatile percussion section. Seal’s approach to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was direct, unfussy and immensely powerful – don’t worry about its alleged coded messages, just listen. The brassy finale was blistering while the largo was deftly handled with powerful yet restrained strings and everything illuminated by wind playing of great character. It was so good that I bought tickets for the repeat performance!