CBSO, Thomas Trotter
Symphony Hall BCMG/CBSO Centre * * * * *
Review by Christopher Morley
We waited so long for Symphony Hall to have a proper organ installed, and now it's already five years since that momentous event happened.
Friday's concert celebrating the anniversary was a wonderful affair, showcasing the amazing talents of Birmingham city organist Thomas Trotter, accompanied by a CBSO on tremendous form, and with the Klais organ itself as the star of the evening.
The variety of registrations and colours it commands is astounding, ranging from the pastel delicacies of a Haydn concerto, accompanied by a CBSO so small you could wrap it in a pocket-handkerchief, through the delicious nothingness of Guilmant's D minor Organ Symphony, looking backwards to Mendelssohn and forwards to the Gothic glamour of Poulenc, and on into the searching marvels of Saint-Saens' fabulous Symphony No3.
And the icing on the cake of this joyous occasion (irresistible music, Trotter a gently modest but superlatively skilful ever-present soloist, the CBSO radiating pleasure and commitment) was the elegant, unflashy but so-effective conducting of Thomas S?nderg?rd – someone to watch out for.
Several of these players were on duty on Saturday, when the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (one of the CBSO's many illustrious spin-offs) gave its opening concert of the new season.
And this, too, proved a joyous occasion, with a wonderful mix of generations in the enthusiastic audience, and joyous despite the sad associations surrounding the centrepiece of this brilliantly-constructed programme.
Oliver Knussen's Requiem – Songs for Sue, written in memory of his former wife and here receiving what was effectively its world premiere (having been revised since its first hearing last April in Chicago), proves that contemporary music can certainly have a heart.
Conducted by the composer, in his first concert with BCMG since his appointment as artist-in-association, and so sympathetically sung by soprano Claire Booth, her mode of delivery varying with each language she was singing, this is a work which communicates with emotional urgency, with gripping melodic lines and an ending which evokes nothing less than Strauss's Four Last Songs.
Booth also gave a beautifully-placed reading of Knussen's Trumpets, with its cunningly-scored accompaniment for three clarinets.
She was also soloist (with fearless repeated top C-flats) in the awesomely brilliant Or Voit Tout En Aventure by Luke Bedford, settings of medieval French and Italian texts rich in reference and detail. An accordion plays like a portative organ continuo, hocketing wind instruments evoke period vocalisations, and contrasts of effect bring continual surprises. The concluding movement is a magical envoi.
A fresh hearing of Colin Matthews' ...through the glass confirmed what a cultivated, accomplished ear this composer has, its strident gestures and beautiful concluding woodwind tracery confidently delivered. But there were also two works by a composer to whom all the aforesaid should genuflect for his economy and allusiveness: the Symphony and Five Pieces by Anton Webern, a genius with so much to offer when his life was cut short by a trigger-happy American.
* The BCMG concert is broadcast tonight on BBC Radio3 (7.30pm).