Review: CBSO/Schubert and Beethoven at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Just a handful of days ago the CBSO delivered sumptuous, glittering accounts of Richard Strauss' Alpensinfonie and Stravinsky's Firebird ballet.

And on Thursday it delivered subtle, pastel-coloured readings of works by Schubert and Beethoven, displaying a versatility to which this Viennese concert's conductor, Andrew Manze, paid enthusiastic tribute in an informative and entertaining post-concert public interview.
 
The two Schubert works were comparatively unknown: the Overture in the Italian Style and the Symphony no.6, and in the wrong hands they could easily seem tedious and trivial.

Under Manze, however, they emerged as shapely and rewarding, despite some inherent clumsiness in their structure and instrumentation: the CBSO woodwind coped sparklingly well with Schubert's occasionally inept doublings, and a scaled-down string section turned Schubert's figurations with a caressing delicacy of touch.
 
And lightness was the keyword in Ronald Brautigam's reading of Beethoven's C minor Piano Concerto. Beethoven himself might have brought more aggression to his performance, but under Brautigam's hands, pearly and crystalline in articulation, we relished the gentle luminosity of the score.
 
Despite the use of a modern instrument, this was very much a performance attuned to "period" pianos. Accents were punchy but never forced, half-tones compelled the attention, and it was fascinating to observe Brautigam lightly accompanying the orchestral tuttis in this most musicianly of collaborations.