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Review: CBSO/Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherazade at Symphony Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews CBSO/Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherazade at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.

The brilliance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration for Scheherazade – he even makes the bassoon sound beguiling – means that it easily becomes a series of discrete beautiful moments. It’s to the credit of up-and-coming Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare that while the incidental orchestral felicities were all in place there also was a strong narrative thrust to this exotic fairytale suite.

While motifs metamorphosed and themes reappeared we never lost sight of a story being told. The first violin is our Scheherazade and in self-indulgent performances she’s a musical Houri who flutters her eyelashes and wears too much make-up.

The CBSO leader Laurence Jackson gave us a storyteller whose music was subtle, tender and seductive. Every featured play received deserved applause with a loud ovation for principal timpanist Peter Hill in his last concert, retiring after twenty-five years with the orchestra.

After recently being disappointed with Jonathan Biss’s Mozart piano concerto playing I was glad to find so much to admire in his performance of Schumann’s concerto. Biss’s interpretation favoured Florestan, the extrovert ebullient side of Schumann’s musical personality rather than the introspective Eusebius – there were thrilling runs and an incisive cadenza to relish – but no want of poetry in a central movement that was both delicate and gracious.

The opening chords of Brahms’ Tragic Overture lacked the dramatic thrust needed to jolt the listener but the performance soon perked up under Payare’s baton. The Ulster Orchestra snapped up the 33-year-old as its chief conductor for next season – it looks like a shrewd signing.

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