UK orchestra alights on local conductor

UK orchestra alights on local conductor


norman lebrecht

December 13, 2020

Our latest exclusive review from the CBSO100 season:

CBSO streamed from Symphony Hall

Never mind the puny sound from computer loudspeakers, nor the fact of not being able to flick one’s eyes around the orchestra and the much-missed 2000-strong audience, this streamed concert still breathed the exhilarating freshness of the CBSO as it responded to the gifted young conductor who has grown through its tiers (sorry about that word) of training, Alpesh Chauhan.
It was also exhilarating to hear how the orchestra reached out to us from the spaciousness and acoustic marvels of the hall which has been its home for nearly 30 years. Social distancing pinpointed detail, and actually enhanced ensemble alertness.

I have never heard a more vivid, engaging account of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture than this, well-paced, onward driven, and with a wonderful web of sound far more transparent than Brahms could ever have hoped for from the clod-hopping orchestras of his own times.
Stephen Hough, such a friend to the CBSO (we remember his Gramophone award-winning Hyperion recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos with the orchestra under Lawrence Foster), gave a persuasive introduction to tonight’s performance of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto,

This began fleet and deftly, never so swift in my previous experience, pearly in articulation from the soloist, and with a wonderfully interchanging balance between piano and orchestra; we moved into a slow movement so intimate with its solo strings, and then a sparkling finale.

There seems to be a psychic chemistry remaining between Birmingham and Mendelssohn, who loved visiting the city. He premiered his second Piano Concerto here in the Town Hall, and then there is of course his conducting of the premiere of his Elijah at the Birmingham Festival in 1846..Is it too fanciful to feel this link persists?

Certainly the CBSO’s account here of Mendelssohn’s First Symphony under Chauhan was again well-balanced in texture, lyrical and flowing (as one would expect from this cellist conductor), subtle and dramatic by turns.

There are rumours of musical chairs: Rattle going to Bavaria, Mirga replacing him at the LSO (heaven knows why she would want that poisoned chalice with no decent home), and someone needed to fill the vacancy here. Should such a chain of events happen, tonight’s concert threw up the perfect candidate.
Christopher Morley



  • Stuart L. says:

    ‘Never mind the puny sound from computer loudspeakers…’

    What’s this? Given the amount of music that so many of us listen to over the internet surely many, if not most, have upgraded their computer system sound to a decent amp/speaker combination?

    • William Safford says:

      That also caught my attention. I agree.

      A pair of high-quality headphones can also do the trick–not the cheap buds that come with cellphones, but quality ones.

  • Allen says:

    “heaven knows why she would want that poisoned chalice with no decent home”

    Sorry, but I thought that the much needed replacement was a “vanity project”, or something?

    I hope that Alpesh Chauhan is up to the job and not another box ticked. I certainly have the impression that certain performers attract unqualified praise with relative ease.

  • Gerald says:

    I don’t think the LSO is a poisoned chalice. I think it was considered to be ‘top 5’ in the world a few years ago. They run a great in-house recording label. They have been doing out-reach and educational work long before many other orchestras. The orchestra members are not stagnant, always new talent wishing to join. Just my own opinion but I think the Barbican is a great home. Interval drink beside a lake is pretty good. Over the years the orchestra and their management have always been fast reacting and innovators so I think they have a good future.

  • Guest says:

    Have some shame. Seriously.

    • John says:

      Agreed and true on many levels.

      To elaborate and unpick just one of them, consider the last paragraph of the review in the cold light of day. Morley has form here: in believing for whatever reason that he has some sort of influence on the CBSO through the pulpit of his journalism.

      Here he is expressing his frustration that the leader search took longer than he would have wished:

      And here is the all time classic instalment about the “cares so much about” being in crisis:

      Why Morley thinks that anyone at the CBSO would be swayed in any way by a critic at a provincial newspaper who consistently churns out sycophantic drivel, quite frankly escapes me. (I mean, let’s all jolly well hope they aren’t!)

      If the CBSO aspire to be a world class orchestra, they need to be complemented by world class and independent music criticism. As things stand, Morley is doing them no favours.

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    In 10 to 15 years – probably. But now he is still inexperienced and not yet fit for the position. Conductors need a process of ripening.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Technical sidenote:

    > “Never mind the puny sound from computer loudspeakers”

    What exactly does Mr. Morley intend by that phrase?
    Who, in their right mind, would ever stream a symphonic concert over computer loudspeakers? Let alone a music critic who, of all people, should know better?

    Every informed person in the field would hook up their best available speakers to the computer, iPad, even smartphone, and relish the music at the best available resolution and quality.
    Superb DACs can now be obtained for less than a hundred quid.
    If wireless transmission is required and the speakers, or amp/receiver, are not yet so endowed, add another fifty, and enjoy.

    “Puny sound from computer loudspeakers” is a notion from the last millennium. Given that we are liable to live with the streaming of concerts for the foreseeable future, better get rid of it, ASAP.

  • Harry Collier says:

    What on earth have the Bavarians done to deserve Simon Rattle? Apart from his pop hairstyle, of course ….

  • Jan says:

    There is no factual evidence behind these comments. No one knows is Rattle will move and I am almost certain that Mirga will stay in Birmingham – at least we hope so.

    • John says:

      I’m sorry, but conviction that Mirga will “almost certainly” stay in Birmingham is no closer to fact than any of the other comments you refer to.

    • John says:

      See my previous reply to this, made at the time. So much for “factual evidence” and being “almost certain” about anything.