Review: CBSO - Andris Nelsons conducts Brahms/Shostakovich at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
This performance of Brahms’ Violin concerto was the latest CBSO example of letting us hear a staple of the repertoire as if for the first time.
Beginning at a slower tempo than usual allowed Nelsons to present Brahms' orchestral writing with a rare clarity, instrumental textures were fluid and nuanced, sweeping and lyrical one moment then fierce with intensity the next.
Christian Tetzlaff was a soloist of real distinction with a beautiful sound, subtle rubato and a spontaneity which had one on the edge of one’s seat. After a slow movement full of contemplation and lyricism the finale exploded with joy, moving in one urgent and brilliant arc towards the irresistible dance of the final bars.
Shostakovich’s Eighth symphony is music of extraordinary vehemence and power. Nelsons gave the death-haunted bleakness of the piece an aching emotional intensity in which the long, desolate cor anglais solo that emerged out of the first movement's huge climax was a particular high-point, beautifully shaped by Alan Garner.
In the third movement as the violas’ remorseless drive was continued by virtuoso trombones, the dance of Death spread throughout the orchestra in an unbearable ratcheting up of tension only to collapse into the lost, forlorn wanderings of the fourth movement.
The strings unearthly quiet was gradually humanised by solo horn, and woodwind before the finale produced some glimmers of hope and a very equivocal vision of peace.
The stunned silence at the end was eventually replaced by well justified cheers as the audience marked Nelsons’ achievement in navigating this emotionally exhausting journey.