A mini standing ovation from the audience belies words it pains me to write: I didn’t ever think to find a CBSO concert dull, but this one was.
Efficiency was the order of the day, and certainly these magnificent players responded scrupulously to the impeccable technique of conductor Kazuki Yamada – though some histrionic sweeps around the podium seemed more destined for the gallery than for the work-force.
But when a work such as the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony leaves one unmoved, that’s serious. The piece has been in the orchestra’s blood for nearly half a century, and they are capable of every nuance called for. Trouble is, none were there in this reading under Yamada, just delivery.
Certainly organist Stephen Farr relished the opportunities of Symphony Hall’s magnificent Klais organ, and the piano-duettists drew a lot of attention from the punters in the choir-stalls.
CBSO woodwind soloists can never fail to be eloquent, nor the strings (even if reduced by one desk each) deep-toned and agile, but the total effect was disappointing.
Similarly workmanlike was Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, another of the CBSO’s calling-cards. Yamada’s opening was crisp, he ensured a smooth flow throughout the sequence of variations, and he secured a warm empathy between the elegant orchestra and the well-weighted pianism of soloist Francesco Piemontesi. But again, the result was less than scintillating, and the necessity of a Debussy encore was beyond me.
Faure’s subtle Pelleas and Melisande incidental music (even some Elgarian bleakness in this score) came and went, my two chief impressions being Marie-Christine Zupancic’s wonderful flute solos, and the presence of cameras focused upon the conductor.
It comes to something when the most memorable item in a CBSO concert was the Toccata from Widor’s Organ Symphony no.5, a solo pre-encore from Stephen Farr, nimble, lively and, at the close, allowing the instrument to roar.