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Prom 4: CBSO, Nelsons | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 4: CBSO, Nelsons

Prom 4: CBSO, Nelsons

The great Latvian conductor will be a hard act to follow in Birmingham

Andris Nelsons, in his last appearance as Principal Conductor of the CBSOphotos: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

This Prom was the final concert of Andris Nelsons's remarkable seven-year spell as principal conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Their Prom showed the astonishing level of responsiveness and flexibility which he and they have achieved together, over the course of more than 300 concerts.

There had been more elaborate farewells and formalities last month at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, with performances of Mahler's Third Symphony, the speeches and all that. For this final coda, Nelsons took a supporting role. He accepted all the applause at the end of the concert from within the orchestra, and didn't get back onto to the podium on any of his returns to the stage. After allowing chorus master Simon Halsey to take a well-deserved bout of clapping, Nelsons finally returned, shook the hand of each of the string section principals, departed, and it was all over.

Nelsons knows precisely how to get the best out of an English amateur chorus

The virtues of Nelsons's way with Beethoven had been there from the very start of the concert, with the short, early overture to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. He took it, on this occasion, surprisingly fast. It had humour, sparkle and charm, and made the very most of the contrasts of loud and soft. Nelsons has a way of crouching and reining himself in, of making himself almost invisible in quieter passages, and then presenting audience and orchestra with a far taller and more imposing version of himself when the volume and intensity are higher.

The Prometheus overture was just a small-scale foretaste of what would be offered with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The performance of this infinitely complex work seemed to evolve naturally and organically. In the first movement the build-ups from very quiet to very loud were organic, accretive, totally convincing, the sense of landing harmonically always just right. In the second movement Nelsons's gestures were a delight. Phrases in the minuet seemed to be treated as people, they were welcomed into the room, and waved goodbye. The trio section was expansive, free with tempo, giving soloists – particularly first horn Elspeth Dutch – opportunities to shine. The string section playing in the third movement was delightful, and this was an occasion when the whole movement cohered with nothing wasted.

The final movement with lower strings flawlessly energetic, and later with soloists and chorus in fine balance (Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and  Kostas Smoriginas with some of the choristers and Henry Wood pictured right), again showed the strengths of Nelsons's approach. He knows precisely how to get the best out of an English amateur chorus, by extracting each and every syllable from their mouths. They even got a jokey visual aid for the word "Götterfunken". The first involvement of the solo quartet, placed in the chorus at the back of the stage, prompted the only brief moment of tempo-uncertainty in the whole symphony.

There was just one genuine disappointment. The 15 minute concerto for contrabassoon and orchestra Falling Down by John Woolrich was commissioned by the orchestra in 2009 to feature its contrabassoonist Margaret Cookhorn, and was receiving its London premiere. It takes its inspiration from the Caprichos of Goya and their mixture of "the comic, the dark, the menacing and the grotesque", but on first hearing felt formless and inconsequential. Nonetheless, for the CBSO Nelsons will be no easy act to follow, and he has left the orchestra in very strong shape.

  • Andris Nelsons returns to the Proms with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 22 and 23 August

Overleaf: watch a video of the CBSO's farewell to Andris Nelsons

This infinitely complex work seemed to evolve naturally and organically


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Absolutely magnificent performance from the television viewing. "English amateur chorus" - a slightly patronising description for one of the finest symphony choruses around!

Nothing wrong with 'amateur' in its proper sense as applied to people who love what they do and don't get paid for it. But agreed, the CBSO Chorus works at the highest professional level.

I agree there is nothing wrong with an amateur chorus. Remember, Noah built the Ark – Professionals built the Titanic!

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