Outstanding performance at Snape

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Snape Proms, August 29th The CBSO has done rather well with talented young conductors recently - Simon Rattle notably - and in Andris Nelsons it shows every sign of having found another gem.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Snape Proms, August 29th

The CBSO has done rather well with talented young conductors recently - Simon Rattle notably - and in Andris Nelsons it shows every sign of having found another gem. Only a little past thirty, the Riga-born former trumpeter with the Latvian National Orchestra has turned many influential heads during his first season in Birmingham.

Performance and origin coincide almost completely when Britten's Sea Interludes are played at Snape. There is a frisson, an almost tangible extra level of engagement as the violins emerge from the early morning mist. The playing was secure and well paced, the overall effect occasionally marred by a mysterious extraneous sound.

The mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova was the soloist in Berlioz's gloriously inventive Le nuits d'ete. Less than impressive diction and occasional recourse to a score notwithstanding, her personality and sense of drama made for many thrilling moments. In Absence and Au cimetiere her vocal strength and control enabled the wonderful woodwind writing to be clearly appreciated but not at the expense of the vocal line.

La Mer is arguably the greatest sea music ever written and is a stern test for both conductor and orchestra. Nelsons and the players got right to the core of this masterpiece, giving us the sun, the spray, the breeze, but also, thanks to some fine playing from the lower strings, the moody, inscrutable depths and sudden, terrifying shifts culminating in a blazing midday climax at the end of the first sketch. More fine playing from the cellos opened the final movement and a distinguished contribution from the oboist set the sea-wave dialogue on its way to a brilliant ending.

La Valse, orchestral showpiece that it certainly is, has more to it than that and Nelsons bought out the basic waltz clearly, yet always with a lurking sense of unease that Armageddon was never too far away.

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There are many good orchestral concerts and fewer outstanding ones. The response of the players to their conductor (always a telling indicator), as well as that of the audience and reviewer, suggest the latter.

Gareth Jones

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