And so the search for a new CBSO chief conductor goes on. There are some who whisper that the rising young German David Afkham might be a candidate, and certainly the concert he directed to a depleted winter matinee audience was efficient, if scarcely galvanising.
But what actually can anyone do with Schubert’s interminable Ninth Symphony?
Just give clear downbeats, keep counting the bars, and remember if you’re going to repeat sections or not. Afkham ticked all those boxes, and ticking away with him throughout were the amazing CBSO strings, so controlled in the infernal, eternal triplet figurations which spin out the finale to paid-by-the-note lengths.
What did help keep the interest alive here was Afkham’s cherishing of inner detail (possibly Schubert’s chamber-music writ large on this overblown canvas), and the sturdy, resonant horns, just two of them sounding like a huge choir, abetted by noble trombones.
We had begun with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, taut, tense, the sound well-placed, but never electrifying as this desperate piece should be.
Nor was there much desperation in Mahler’s lovelorn Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, baritone Brett Polegato seeming uncomfortable at the extremes of his range, though always clear and intelligent in his diction. There was little communicative engagement here.
Orchestral collaboration was colourful and alert, though why Afkham felt obliged to place the harp unusually orchestra-left defeats me. It made no point, apart from the conductor perhaps putting down a marker.