As the CBSO supporters’ coach arrived at the Albert Hall at noon there was already a substantial queue of Prommers waiting for concert tickets – after last year’s triumph word had got out that this was likely to be a special night.
Wagner’s overture to Rienzi got the careful advocacy it needs if its crowd-pleasing aspects are not to descend into bathos. The trumpet’s opening call to arms was finely managed and the strings’ big tune sang eloquently as the allegro set off, the 13 CBSO brass (arrayed in a spectacular line at the back of the orchestra) displaying tonal refinement and power rather than bombast.
Paul Lewis’s performance of Beethoven’s Second Concerto was a demonstration of what partnership means, compelling us to surrender to the musical experience rather than just admire the sheer artistry of the soloist. The magically hushed handling of the slow movement, particularly the lead back to the main theme, was just breathtaking.
It’s now part of CBSO folklore that it was Nelson’s performance of Dvorák’s New World Symphony that led to his appointment as music director and you could well believe it in such an electrifying account such as this.
The Largo was tender and simple, with beautifully detailed and controlled string playing providing a delicate cushion for Alan Garner’s lovely cor anglais solo. In the open prairie of the Albert Hall the extreme pianissimos sounded almost as if they were offstage while the tuttis of the first and last movements had bite and an opulent splendour.
As the cheers rang out repeatedly at the end of this memorable concert, leader Laurence Jackson refused to accept the conductor’s invitation to bring the CBSO to its feet, instead applauding Nelsons himself. The orchestra, and the audience, knew that they made the right decision three years ago.