Review: Turnage and Mahler, performed by CBSO/BCMG at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

It comes as a shock to realise that Mark-Anthony Turnage's Kai is already over 20 years old.
 
One of the first of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's premieres, this mini cello concerto still seems as fresh as the day it was first heard.

Its message of lament, gratitude and outrage at a life lost so young is timeless -- as was the response of Ulrich Heinen, its original soloist, when BCMG drew the piece out of the drawer to stun a receptive audience.
 
Heinen has the music in his DNA, but now, too, has Andris Nelsons, coming new to the work and feeling instantly at home with its bluesy, funky energy and its accumulations of power.

Nelsons directed the BCMG players in an irresistibly heartwarming collaboration with the expert Heinen.
 
And no-one could possibly imagine the subsequent performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony was Nelsons' first-ever.

His grip over its huge paragraphs and almost hallucinatory shifts in expression revealed a total immersion in this valedictory masterpiece as he guided us so patiently to its fading conclusion.
 
It goes without saying that his CBSO players responded with sumptuous depth of tone and well-characterised incidentals. In particular, hornist Elspeth Dutch maintained the magnificent form she had displayed as soloist in last week's Strauss concerto.
 
The pin-drop silence at the end was eventually matched by the release of applause which could have gone on all night.

* Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday February 8 (7pm) and recorded for release on Orfeo.