Magazine article Musical Opinion

CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Magazine article Musical Opinion

CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Article excerpt

What could possibly link Elgar and Shostakovich? The answer given in this shrewdly-programmed CBSO Sunday matinee concert is plenty. Both were passionately opposed to violence. Both had no qualms about quoting preexisting material in their own work. And both were masters at writing for the hugest of orchestras, and exploiting the implacability of snareless side-drums.

The music here had an anti-oppression agenda, whether against nations or against the working-class, and we began with music composed by Elgar during and around the First World War.

His symphonic prelude Polonia, written in 1915 for the Polish Victims Relief Fund, is a wonderful synthesis of national tunes from the country as well as excerpts from some of its great composers (Chopin's G minor Nocturne sweetly quoted by Laurence Jackson's solo violin). And to it Elgar brings fingerprints of his maturest style, sturdy bass lines, noble brass, fulsome strings to the fore, as well as a massive and important organ part.

Much more intimate is Une Voix dans le Desert, a recitation for speaker, soprano and orchestra by the Belgian poet Emile Cammaerts. The scene is set near the fighting-front, desolation all around, and the music illustrates vividly every detail of the text (Simon Callow the wonderfully communicative, fatalistically matter-of-fact narrator), interspersing a visionary song from a local peasant-girl (Eleanor Dennis appropriately ethereal, but difficult to understand through an under-projected and wide vibrato).

Between these came Sospiri (strings, harp and organ), premiered just days after the outbreak of war, and an expression of numbed grief which seemed to presage so much. …

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