Symphony Hall


CBSO Centre Stage,

CBSO Centre


The Centre Stage programme of chamber-scale events at the CBSO Centre continues to provide unique experiences for Birmingham audiences while the core repertoire is constantly renewed at Symphony Hall.

Polish conductor Michal Dworzyñski made Thursday afternoon’s concert of familiar pieces an exhilarating occasion.

Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony had a robust sense of confidence and vigour, and the CBSO’s sparkling strings excelled in the high-speed bustle of the finale, along with pattering timpani, chattering woodwind and pervading high spirits.

The crisp brilliance of Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin produced a well-structured account of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, the celebrated 18th variation suitably sweeping but not lingered over, allowing the work’s proper climax to arrive in a rousing display of virtuosity.

Most impressive was Dvorák’s New World Symphony – approached with symphonic rigour as well as long-breathed lyricism. The largo was tender and simple with beautifully controlled string playing; both in providing a delicate cushion for Christine Pendrill’s lovely cor anglais solo and later in the solo strings musings just before the theme’s final return.

This was a gripping performance with all the power and dramatic drive that this great piece demands. Dworzyñski is a dynamic conductor who I hope we will hear again.

Friday’s ‘Centre Stage’ concert, devised by principal cello Eduardo Vassallo, featured two world premieres in extremely different styles.

Vassallo was joined by CBSO leader Laurence Jackson in Jorge Bosso’s Duo II for violin and cello. This is a severe, sometimes edgy piece in which three fugues are separated by two intermezzi.

Starting in a mood of Shostakovichian austerity, the piece moved through more propulsive and demanding territory, until in the final fugue a folksong-like theme wound through the instruments, and the work ended with a hair-raising sequence of vertiginous octaves in both violin and cello.

Now in his 80s, the Indian composer Vanraj Bhatia has a most unusual pedigree.

His music covers a wide spectrum from western classical to drama, films and television serials. He trained in the West under a variety of famous names, including Nadia Boulanger, and from her he seems to have inherited lucidity, grace and the cultivation of baroque and classical forms.

His Sinfonia Concertante for strings, with solo violin, viola and cello, is a very beautiful work, based on Indian ragas, laid out in five movements and acknowledging a debt to the Italian masters of baroque string writing.

The music exists in both worlds simultaneously, creating its contrasts from changes in texture, dynamics, and rhythmic speed, with its complexities concealed behind a shimmering exterior that echoes the concerto grosso, but adding layers of string sound in a contemporary way.

Michael Seal conducted with his habitual clarity and precision, and his fellow musicians gave glowing support to their solo colleagues. This piece should be recorded as soon as possible.

John Gough