Review: Prokofiev and Sibelius

Simon Hale enjoys the CBSO’s latest performance.

From the serene to the climactic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra revelled in bringing out the dynamic contrasts in a richly romantic programme at Symphony Hall.

Conducted authentically by Ilan Volkov, the CBSO gave full rein to the surging driving force running through works that ranged from the well-known to the new.

Opening with Sibelius’s, The Oceanides, an impressionistic tone poem based on a Greek myth about the nymphs inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea, there was a palpable sense of placid ocean turning to gathering storm before ending in a wave-crashing climax.

Similar wind and wave-like melodic developments were also given dynamism in Volkov’s reading of Sibelius’s popular Fifth Symphony. From its brooding beginnings, the surge in energy leading up to the final movement theme with its gorgeous melody inspired by a flight of swans, and finally its close on six mighty chords, was both moving and majestic.

You can understand why pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (pictured front page), a member of the famous Midlands-based musical Kanneh-Mason family, is in such demand internationally after listening to her as the soloist in Prokofiev’s familiar Third Piano Concerto.

In a performance as sparkling as her evening gown, Kanneh-Mason fought what felt like an equally matched duel with the orchestra over the work’s musical themes. Her sensitivity in the reflective passages was as assured as her power in the conclusion.

The evening included the world premiere of Demon by the British American composer Freya Waley-Cohen (pictured). This thoroughly engaging ten-minute work influenced by folklore echoed the earlier Sibelius works with its rhythmical moto perpetuo energy.

With harp, xylophone and tubular bells adding special magic to the beautifully flowing narrative, which also featured some unsettling undercurrents, this work deserves to be performed again in future concert programmes.