We celebrated three centenaries with the CBSO on Thursday, and we also celebrated the return of Sakari Oramo, much-loved music director of the orchestra for ten years, to the podium, now as principal guest conductor.
Birmingham was privileged to witness his development during that decade as he honed his skills on this willing orchestra.
Now he has moved on, devoting much of his time to orchestras in Finland and Sweden, but the Oramo effect remains, not least in the strings.
And they were spectacularly part of the block instrumental textures of L’Ascension by Messiaen (born 100 years ago last Wednesday), silkily dancing and sonorously chordal in this effulgent tone-poem showing so much of the influence of Messiaen’s great teacher, Dukas.
Another composer’s 100th birthday was marked to the very day, but this one, thankfully, is still actively writing: Elliott Carter, whose Horn Concerto here received its British premiere from the expert lips and lungs of the CBSO’s principal hornist Elspeth Dutch.
Exuberantly exploring the vast range of the instrument, it takes no prisoners in the demands it makes (Dutch as Horn 1 normally takes the higher-pitched parts). It exploits lyricism as well as acknowledging the “hunting” sub-text of the horn, and Dutch’s performance was just about note-perfect in this busy writing, bringing eloquence of tone as well as dexterity of delivery.
It was difficult to remember that this vital energising work was written by a composer approaching his 100 years, and who has still several commissions on the boil.
Finally came Elgar’s Symphony no.1, premiered just a week before the birth of Messiaen and Carter. Oramo, who has conducted the composer’s massive oratorio trilogy to immense acclaim, was tackling this great work for the first time.
The outcome was amazing – but why no BBC recording on this important occasion?