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Review: CBSO/Mozart's Gran Partita at Symphony Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews CBSO/Mozart's Gran Partita at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.

CBSO/Mozart's Gran Partita at Birmingham's Symphony Hall
****

Built like a bricklayer and with a pugnacious playing manner to match, Guy Braunstein isn’t graceful – but his playing revealed the soul of a poet.

A late replacement for the ill Renaud Capuçon, who was to have played Glazunov, Braunstein’s performance of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto won many admirers; it eschewed outward glamour but got to the heart of the work.

In the canzonetta slow movement his violin line weaved magically together with the oboe and clarinet. His encore, Fritz Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin was witty and slyly humorous.

The prominence of Tchaikovsky’s sensuous wind writing was no coincidence – conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens was formerly the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal clarinet.

He no doubt imparted invaluable wisdom to the CBSO players preparing for their performance of Mozart’s Gran Partita for thirteen wind instruments (and double bass).

In this work, however, a conductor is a fifth wheel and can soften the nervous edge that produces the most imaginative performance. In the sublime adagio Matthias Baecker (oboe) and Christopher Richards (clarinet) combined elegantly but perhaps would have played more freely and daringly without Steffens.

That caveat aside this was a superb performance, bristling with energy, character and attention to detail and rocketing joyfully away at the end with Mozart’s opera buffa exuberance. In his Symphony in Three Movements Stravinsky plundered his back catalogue, Petrushka’s piano, the Rite’s pounding rhythms plus a dash of neo-classicism, but it’s brilliantly orchestrated and concise.

Steffens brought out the andante’s rhythmic quirkiness and delivered an applause-grabbing thunderous final orchestral blast.

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