Review: Organ symphony

Simon Hale is present at the CBSO’s latest Symphony Hall date.

The buzz in Symphony Hall was palpable as Kazuki Yamada made sure the CBSO’s autumn season opener was proof of exciting times to come.

Recently named to succeed Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla in April 2023, the current principal guest conductor was high-spirited in his address from the podium: “I’m crazy happy that I’ve got to be the next chief conductor. I can’t believe it – it’s like a dream!” he said.
Responding to his quips (“I love Birmingham – especially your curries,” he added), both the audience – which included the CBSO’s patron the Earl of Wessex – and orchestra seemed enthralled by the recruit, the latter smiling and giving their all to his expressive conducting.

The programme helped of course – full of triumphant and celebratory pieces befitting the start of a new dawn both musically and hopefully pandemically. With Symphony Hall looking at its best, the concert hall’s mighty organ made a welcome contribution to two of the works including Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No 3 – more commonly know as his Organ Symphony.

Organist Anna Lapwood, sat on high using CCTV to follow the conducting, gave wonderful spot-on support to the orchestra which similarly pulled out all the stops to emphasise the richly tuneful nature of this popular work. Julian Wilkins conducted the purely vocal Messe Basse (Low Mass) by Fauré sung beautifully by the CBSO Youth Chorus, even though this short unaccompanied work seemed out of kilter with the vast space and powerful programme.

The full CBSO Chorus were also in fine form for Poulenc’s Gloria, with some wonderfully angelic-like singing from soprano Carolyn Sampson. For a sacred work, the music itself came over as an intriguing mix of reverence and jollity.

As if triumphalism in some works could ever be understated, the CBSO’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture began with a surprising all-choral hymn. Yet this only heightened the drama of the orchestra’s introduction and build-up to a booming drum finale that sounded exactly like cannon fire.

The CBSO returns to Symphony Hall on Wednesday, September 22 and Thursday, September 23th with a programme of music by Humperdinck, Chausson and Tchaikovsky: