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CBSO 2 c. Upstream Photography resized

CBSO: hangin’ with my homies

 The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Symphony Hall on Wednesday 17 May 2017.


We need to hear more César Franck. Historically speaking, Debussy is meaningless without him – and his blend of fervent Wagnerian harmonies with high Gothic grandeur makes Franck’s orchestral music intoxicating listening. So huge plaudits to the CBSO’s guest conductor Karina Canellakis for opening her Birmingham debut with Franck’s terrific symphonic poem Le Chasseur Maudit. With its hell-bound horns and eerie moments of calm, it’s a real white-knuckle ride, and the CBSO sounded as if they were enjoying every bar.

As well they might: in her enthusiasm, Canellakis went at it with off-the-scale energy, generating within the first few minutes the kind of volumes that some CBSO chief conductors reserve for the climax of Mahler’s Eighth. She’d dialled it back slightly by the final item in the concert, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. This was an intelligent bit of programming, with the baleful chimes of Rachmaninoff’s finale echoing the Franck, and Canellakis conducted with a powerful sense of direction. I’ve never been more convinced that this piece is a symphony in disguise, and the CBSO’s strings were so lush that you felt you could almost reach out and squeeze the sound.

In between, Cédric Tiberghien was the soloist in Saint-Saëns’ Fifth Piano Concerto, the “Egyptian”. Given that the CBSO won a Gramophone Award for its Saint-Saëns concerto recordings a few years ago, you’d think we’d hear this more often too. But its blend of Parisian glitter and sunny orientalism make it worth the wait, and Tiberghien played it with a winningly light touch – and in the sultry second movement, a surprising amount of muscle. Canellakis accompanied with loving care, reinforcing the impression that this is one young conductor it’d definitely be worth asking back.