Please can we have a concertmaster?

Please can we have a concertmaster?


norman lebrecht

November 28, 2019

Latest review from Birmingham in our CBSO100 series, by Christopher Morley:


Symphony Hall ****

This was a delightfully domestic programme from the CBSO; It’s just a pity more people weren’t at home to hear it. Do they only turn out for blockbusters? Aren’t Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven attractive enough?

And Richard Strauss? It was a treat to hear his rarely-performed Duett-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon, strings and harp, a very late work, autumnal in the manner of the contemporaneous Oboe Concerto, and a work which somehow also combines the worlds of the early tone-poems and the composer’s operatic ensembles.

CBSO principals Oliver Janes and Nikolaj Henriques were the soloists, and what a joy this collaboration was. Janes’ clarinet tones were gloriously limpid, harking back to late Brahms (and why not?), Henriques’ bassoon was eloquently characterised, both noble and agile.

Under conductor Riccardo Minasi the CBSO accompanied their colleagues generously and enthusiastically, and along with us on the other side of the footlights relished the delightful encore, a pasticcio on arias from Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

The rest of the programme brought works from the greats of the first Viennese School of composers, coloured by classically-placed strings, natural trumpets, rattling shallow timpani and blazing horns.

Haydn’s Symphony no.88 was fizzy, bouncy, neat, and given with an engaging contrast between delicacy and extroversion. Beethoven’s magnificent Coriolan Overture was dramatically driven, the death of its hero muttering into oblivion in much the way that Don Juan, Petrushka and Falstaff were to do nearly a century later.

And Mozart’s Symphony no.39 was warmly-coloured, alertly-phrased, and the gurgling clarinets in the Minuet’s Trio were an absolute joy. But there were some unconvincing ritardandi in transitions, and it would have been more elegant to open out the grace-notes.

Now here’s a question to ponder over the Festive Season. Isn’t it about time the CBSO had a new concertmaster? We haven’t had one since the departure to Australia of the much-loved Laurence Jackson, prior to the appointment of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla in 2016. Perhaps it is time that our music director should be insisting upon someone permanent sitting at her left-hand side — and speaking for the players.

Christopher Morley


  • Robin Smith says:

    On the poor attendance last night…………It’s probably because the concert is repeated this afternoon. It’s easier to get in and out of Birmingham in the afternoon.

  • Anthony Mason says:

    Your prediction was right Robin. The matinee today was very well attended and the audience appreciative. It was my first experience of the conducting of Riccardo Minasi and he’s quite something. He almost mimed the Mozart to the orchestra and is so physical that some of the audience in the choir stalls were giggling – hopefully supportively… The applause the orchestra gave him at the end of the concert was notable. His diary looks too crowded to give the CBSO much airtime but I got the sense they really enjoyed playing under him.

    • Derek says:

      You’re right Anthony. Riccardo Minasi was very expressive.

      He is a good communicator but also with a sense of fun (which is contagious).