This stunningly well played concert of violent emotional contrasts was a triumphant display of the powers of concentration of both conductor and players.
After Shostakovich’s suite from his film music for Hamlet, CBSO trumpeter Alan Thomas brought a gleaming tone and a dancing lightness to Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto, poetic in the slow movement and full of gleeful high spirits and agility in the irresistible finale.
The second half brought a dramatic change of tone with a blazing performance of Beethoven’s Leonora Overture no. 3, where the strings’ evocation of hope after oppression in the coda had an unquenchable excitement.
And so to the enigma of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 6. Vassily Sinaisky is one of a great line of Russian conductors in this repertoire, and he gave us an intense and disturbing performance, part apocalypse and part circus.
The opening Largo kept moving, unsettlingly, restlessly, as a chasm grew in the orchestral texture between the high woodwind (superlative playing from piccolo and clarinets!) and the sepulchral depths of the strings until the emptiness could be borne no longer and after an unbearably poignant flute duet over string trills the opening theme returned.
The remaining two movements turned away, as if the abyss had never existed, and we had wonderfully agile woodwind playing in the Scherzo, and an unnerving balance between vulgarity and virtuoso exuberance in the frenzied hyperactivity of the final Presto. This was comedy of sorts but a snarling humour, with clenched teeth. Perhaps, as Sinaisky said himself in a recent interview “the most wonderful thing about Shostakovich’s music is that we will simply never get to the bottom of it!”