Berlioz would have been ashamed of thismain
Chris Morley’s review for Slipped Disc of the latest online concert in the CBSO100 season:
Over half a century ago Hugh Macdonald. one of this country’s leading Berlioz experts, wrote in a BBC Music Guide that the composer had described his Rob Roy Overture as “long and diffuse”.
“And so it is,” confirmed the critic. “It should never be performed before an audience who are not wholly aware that Berlioz was ashamed of it.”
Rob Roy is a rarity in the concert-hall, but Symphony Hall gives it socially-distanced room-space for this latest streamed concert by a reduced CBSO. And in fact Berlioz was brutally honest with himself, and Macdonald right to quote him, and to repeat it in his lengthy article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Even in this willing, muscular performance under Michael Seal’s eloquent conducting this emerged as a disproportionate, sagging and over-long piece. The Scottishisms are quaint, and we do get some wonderful precursors of music which Berlioz would lift for the much more acceptable Harold in Italy (why waste a good idea). But then again there are other Berlioz overtures as unconvincing as this.
We moved to central Europe for Ravel’s Tzigane for violin and orchestra, soloist Eugene Tzikindelean describing it in a pre-performance interview with Seal as “an encompassing piece of the violin repertoire”.
Certainly its gipsy context demands plenty of panache from the violinist, with flourishes of pizzicato, fluting harmonics and spectacular multiple-stopping, all of which Tzikindelean conveyed with impeccable intonation, deep throaty tone in the extended G-string cadenza, and an astute delicacy and clarity of articulation. Seal (who has previous in this piece, once having broken his violin during a lesson on it) led the CBSO in a totally sympathetic collaboration.
Conducting from memory, Seal presided over a remarkably energising account of Beethoven’s ineffable Seventh Symphony, with a wonderful balance between harmonic context and rhythmic drive.
Horns rasped proudly in the opening movement, the slow movement built to emotional heights (or, conversely, dug into emotional depths), and the clarity of the bass triplet-line under the upper dactyllic rhythms was spectacular, even on puny computer sound. The scherzo was bustling and precise. And here I pause.
There had been an illuminating discussion beforehand between Seal and principal clarinettist Oliver Janes, the latter referring to an occasion in Germany when Andris Nelsons had done an immediate “attacca” between the third and fourth movements (I was there, when the CBSO performed all nine symphonies at the Bonn Beethovenfest).
But Seal didn’t do this for this performance, though I am convinced it needs it, as the pulses of the third and fourth movements are identical. Never mind; the swift, demanding tempo he chose for this music of the dancing spheres was brilliantly encompassed, and all of this, despite imaginative camera-work, without the adrenaline of a live audience and no applause at the end!