Brahms Tragic Overture Op. 81 (1880)
Nielsen Violin Concerto DF61 (1911)
Shostakovich Symphony no.5 in D minor Op.47 (1937)
Eugene Tzikindelean (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Alpesh Chauhan
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 7 December 2022 [2.15pm]
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
A gratifyingly large house greeted this afternoon concert given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with its former assistant conductor Alpesh Chauhan, taking in works long established in the repertoire and a concerto which remains on or about its periphery.
Tackling Brahms’s Tragic Overture depends on whether one sees it as an overture pure if not so simple, or as a tone poem with its ‘programme’ subsumed into the music’s inner workings. Chauhan favoured a viable mid-way course, his steady if never flaccid approach keeping its sonata design firmly in view but with enough expressive license to bring out the pathos in its second main theme and, especially, that spellbinding transition to its reprise when a wistful vulnerability steals over the music as if denying the implacable fatalism otherwise dominant.
CBSO leader Eugene Tzikindelean then took the stage as soloist. A bold if unexpected choice for such an appearance, Nielsen’s Violin Concerto has never quite received its due outside of Denmark but that it makes a cogent impression was never in doubt in a reading as insightful as this. Its Praeludium keenly yet sensitively rendered, Tzikindelean despatched the ensuing Allegro with the right chivalrousness and suavity. A broken string in the development caused only minimal delay as he produced its replacement then restrung his instrument with alacrity.
Its self-sufficient halves make sustaining an overall trajectory the crucial factor in this piece and Tzikindelean succeeded admirably, drawing inward rapture from the second movement’s lengthy Poco adagio before steering a never too hasty course through its lightly ironic Rondo. Tzikindelean responded to the enthusiastic response with the opening ‘Country Musicians’ section from Enescu’s Impressions d’Enfance as a delectable encore: maybe we can expect that composer’s Caprice Roumain or Pascal Bentoiu’s Violin Concerto on a future occasion?
Throughout this performance, Chauhan proved steadfast and attentive in support, then came into his own after the interval with an impressive take on Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. If the earlier stages of the Moderato seemed a little reined-in, the development accumulated the requisite intensity on the way to a powerfully conceived reprise, then a coda of aching regret. Steadier and less capricious than usual, the ensuing Allegretto yielded a keen impetus and, in its trio, a deftly ‘knowing’ contribution from Tzikindelean having retaken the leader’s chair.
It was the Largo that proved the highlight of this performance. Chauhan sustained its heartfelt interplay of themes with unforced rightness, CBSO woodwind heard to advantage in its rapt central episode before a climax of wrenching eloquence that subsided into expectant stillness. Launched (almost) attacca, the final Allegro unfolded with due emphasis on its ‘non troppo’ marking; its calculated aggression pointedly undercut by musing circumspection, before the heady ascent towards an apotheosis which was more than usually defiant in its equivocation.
A performance that provided ample indication of Chauhan’s emergence as a conductor of the front rank. Hopefully he will be returning to the CBSO soon, the latter’s activities continuing with the customary Christmas and Viennese New Year concerts with which to see out 2022