Review: CBSO, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Wagner - Andris Nelsons has already presented to us his credentials with these composers (and so many others) with immense success. And now we can add Mahler.

He opened the CBSO's 90th birthday season with no less a challenge than Mahler's Symphony no.8, the Symphony of a Thousand (and it seemed to be very nearly that, with choristers ranging halfway round both sides of the upper gallery - what a hall this is to accommodate such grandiloquence), the introduction to a huge MahlerFest marking both the composer's 150th birthday and the centenary of his death. The result was magnificent.

Previous Birmingham performances have left us marvelling at the expertise of everyone involved, not least the conductor. But here it was the music which emerged paramount, our awareness of Nelsons' contribution only secondary to the impact of this visionary music which his huge, sweeping beat had liberated out into the ether.
 
Its 85-minute length seemed to pass in one vast phrase, whether encompassing mighty fully-scored surges or chamber-style interludes (such as the desolate little violin solos at the heart of the opening movement, Laurence Jackson in his customary superlative form).

The eight solo singers performed as an entity (no prima donna-ism here), and the choruses - CBSO, CBSO Youth, CBSO Children's, the Halle and members of the City of Birmingham Choir - encompassed both the most delicate of pianissimos and the most stirring, full-throated acclamation.
 
And behind this huge triumph was Nelsons, busy, brimming with enthusiasm, body-language mirroring the sentiments of the well-timed surtitles (not everyone has Latin and German), exhorting and inspiring.

But Andris, please allow the audience to show you personally its appreciation at the end: modestly, you didn't mount the podium once when the applause thundered out at the end of this remarkable performance.