Review: CBSO conducted by Robert Spano, at Symphony Hall

12.09.11
Robert Spano
Birmingham Post

By Christopher Morley

Taking up the CBSO where Louis Fremaux had left it, Simon Rattle described it as “the best French orchestra in the land”.

Now, after all the wonderful work of Rattle and his own successor, Sakari Oramo, it can now be held to be “the best Scandinavian orchestra in the land”, as Thursday’s well-compiled, if gritty programme testified.

Robert Spano (Italo-American, with a Finnish mother) conducted, drawing an amazingly disturbing account of Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony.

This work, written while the composer was confronting the demons of his addictions to alcohol and cigars, sits like a spectre between the mightily optimistic Third and Fifth Symphonies, its bitty statements needing to be unified into a cogent whole.

And how well Spano and the CBSO achieved this; top marks to Ulrich Heinen for the dark eloquence of his frequent cello solos, but top marks, too, for the biting strings, the portentous brass and the lamenting woodwind.

We come close to the otherworld of the Kalevala here, and it was good eventually to escape into the pastoral optimisim of Nielsen’s Third Symphony.

This Sinfonia Espansiva takes a delight in the landscape of Funen, the composer’s Danish homeland, sometimes to the extent of bringing us farmyard noises. The affirmative finale could easily sound like bad Brahms, but in this reading it proved totally inspiriting.

The wordless vocal solos were visionarily conveyed by soprano Inger Dam-Jensen and baritone Jeremy Huw Williams. Dam-Jensen warmed herself and us up with a lovely selection of Grieg orchestral songs, including “Last Spring”. Nothing gets better than that.