There’s more to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra than the famous opening fanfare – but if that depiction of sunrise isn’t titanic, mysterious and nape-tickling then the performance as a whole falls flat.
No problem for these talented youngsters: the sunrise dazzled, from the sepulchral pedal notes of the Symphony Hall organ to the strings soaring above the stave.
This was a Zarathustra which sang, danced and thrilled. Conductor Jac van Steen ensured that while there was ample power where demanded, lyricism and subtlety were never ignored – exemplified by the orchestra’s leader Diego Vassallo’s contribution in the Dance Song section.
Praise also for the indefatigable brass players here and in Stokowski’s “symphonic synthesis” from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, where the off-stage horn chorus was very effective.
The young Birmingham-trained composer Charlotte Bray’s Black Rainbow, a commission by the CBSO and Feeney Trust, received its world premiere.
It’s short (12 minutes) but spectacular, with a battery of brass and percussion and a demanding role for the orchestra’s excellent wind section.
The hushed opening with muted growling brass was suitably menacing and if the central trumpet ostinato outstayed its welcome the gradual manoeuvre from manic energy to questioning quiet, and the handling of large orchestral forces, was skillfully done.