Review: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Sage Gateshead

A viral infection kept CBSO conductor Andris Nelsons off the podium but Simone Young was a superb replacement.

A viral infection kept CBSO conductor Andris Nelsons off the podium but Simone Young was a superb replacement.

The accomplished Australian has earned many accolades and clearly knows Anton Bruckner inside out.

Thanks to her we got the 1887 version of the Austrian composer’s Symphony no. 8, Apocalyptic, instead of the 1890 which is better known – although not by me.

I’m on a classical music journey of discovery and it was useful to hear the pre-concert lecture by Bruckner expert Stephen Johnson.

He painted a portrait of Bruckner (1824-96) as a frequently misunderstood bundle of insecurities who never experienced true love in his personal life or the professional accolades he deserved.

Bruckner revised his work frequently meaning different versions exist of his symphonies, some of which he never heard performed.

Apocalyptic’s four long movements took us on a journey through periods of stillness – one passage supposedly mimicking a clock in the room of a dying man – and of frenetic drama with everyone playing flat out and one memorable riff urgently repeating and repeating.

After spells of maximum exertion, with the conductor practically jumping up and down, the string players were seen flexing arms and fingers.

They gave everything and it was brilliant. The long-haired conductor merited a bouquet that never came.

The only disappointment was the size of the audience. OK, so Bruckner’s not everyone’s favourite and the weather was atrocious – but a scattered few hundred in a 1,700-seat hall didn’t look good.

Neither did it augur well for the prospect of big orchestras visiting in future. Their loss was supposed to be a blow. This looked like a blow to the Sage’s accounts.

David Whetstone

 

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