We should not marvel when “foreigners” tackle English music. If it’s great enough, then it should be in the universal domain, and that is certainly the case with the Elgar Cello Concerto.
I have heard both the CBSO’s co-principals (the German Ulrich Heinen, the Argentinian Eduardo Vassallo) perform it with great depth of understanding, and on Wednesday afternoon the Scandinavian cellist Torleif Thedeen collaborated with the orchestra in a reading which threw particular illuminations upon the work.
His was an account, seamless and unflashy, which saw the piece as wise reflections upon a life generously lived. There was no self-pity here in these rich, dark-hued tones, but ruminations which sometimes erupted in spectacularly-controlled bow-bouncing descents (in the scherzo, or stilled the world in the adagio.
The CBSO is an orchestra adept at listening to each other and to the soloist, and this performance, under the conducting of the personable Andrew Manze, reaffirmed that virtue.
We had begun with a Grieg Peer Gynt Suite which paid this deftly-scored music the compliment it deserves of being taken seriously.
And we ended with what was probably the long-awaited Birmingham premiere of the Swedish composer Stenhammar’s Second Symphony. In many ways we have here a Nordic Bruckner, but one enlivened with nationalistic elements, evoking comparisons with Vaughan Williams in its use of modal folkiness.
The busy finale reminds us of the comparable movement in Mahler’s visionary Seventh Symphony – now there’s a thought.
Manze and the CBSO dispatched this fascinating score brilliantly. How does this orchestra do it, probably still jet-lagged after its emotional appearances in Latvia?
Rating * * * * *