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Review: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, by CBSO, at Birmingham Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons leads the CBSO in a performance broadcast live on national radio.

CBSO
*****
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conductor Andris Nelsons

Apparently the BBC Radio 3 live broadcast of this CBSO concert was arranged at the last minute.

My heart doesn't bleed for disappointed London Symphony Orchestra groupies who get more than enough of their metrocentric fix anyway, but what a bonus for everyone else, sharing with my ancient ears the most exciting account of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring I have ever heard.

Stravinsky, Monteux, Bernstein, Karajan (if one must), Fremaux, Rattle, Oramo, Zander in his extraordinary performance high on adrenaline, all have their qualities, but this, Andris Nelsons' first-ever outing with the work in this its centenary year, knocked them all into a cocked hat.

This was an approach relishing the ballet's visceral energy, its fragile lyricism and its amazingly imaginative scoring.

Nelsons even convinced us that the opening of Part II (here following on immediately, without a discernible break) was not so much of an impressionistic meandering, more a tension-building scene-setting.

The CBSO know this music so well, and therefore could enter easily and willingly into Nelsons' bright-eyed conception.

He had no problem coaxing his players to listen to each other (the bassoon-led opening - Gretha Tuls fearless - introduced a wind choir unfolding like springtime tendrils, underpinned by fruitily gurgling bass clarinets), and no problem either in pouncing with huge, cutting accents.

Some of the folk-tunes Stravinsky employed are close to Nelsons' Baltic roots, and perhaps this wonderful response was partly instinctive.

Part of the Rite's significance. of course, is its smashing of the lumbering, harmonically overloaded, rhythmically inert post-Wagnerian orchestra, and we certainly heard many of those symptoms in the Wagner first half.

Mercifully, soprano Kristine Opolais (making a welcome return to Symphony Hall -- how endearingly she waved all around the audience) lightened up the heavy textures of the Tristan-reeking Wesendonck Lieder with almost Mahlerian nuances in her appealingly-floated vocal lines.

Body-language was subtly expressive (text-bound punters would have missed this), and the empathy between her and husband Andris was natural, adding in value.

And we had begun with a sonorously-sculpted Tannhauser Overture, full of linear tension, noble instead of bombastic. Nelsons was taken to this opera when he was five years old; he cried at its beauty, and went home to write his own opera. Where is it?

Meanwhile, I shall look forward to the Orfeo release of this Rite.

To tide me over I shall try to crack BBC iPlayer.

 
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