Richard Bratby

Hit every auditory G-spot simultaneously: CBSO/Hough/Gardner concert reviewed

Plus: the Royal Opera House reappears from lockdown with a half-baked mess

The CBSO, under the baton of Edward Gardner, played with pristine clarity and pinpoint ensemble. Photo: Hannah Blake-Fathers

Rejoice: live music is back. Or at least, live music with a live audience, which, as Sir Simon Rattle admitted, addressing the masked and socially distanced crowd immediately before the LSO’s first full-scale public performance for 14 months, is kind of the whole point. Yes, he said, they’d streamed online concerts from the Barbican, but the silence of emptiness is a very different proposition from the silence of a hall containing 1,000 human beings. He’s right, of course. Those 14 months have tested to destruction the notion that digital platforms can offer the same sort of emotional nourishment. Once again, then — rejoice! And nobody mention the Indian variant.

For a sector that likes to think of itself as sceptical, the big classical promoters certainly appear to be going all-in. Within the next fortnight most major orchestras will have launched a stop-gap concert series, and many are also planning for a business-as-usual 2021-22 season after the summer. On a rough reckoning, there are between 40 and 50 operatic productions scheduled to open across the UK — at summer festivals, as well as the major companies — over the next three months. The Royal Opera was straight off the blocks with a brand-new production on Monday 17 May: the earliest permissible moment.

The audience whooped and cheered before a note had been played

More of that shortly. The first symphony orchestras back were the LSO and the CBSO, and the tone was celebratory. In both cities, the audience whooped and cheered before a note had been played, and in both concerts there were words acknowledging the significance of the occasion. And then there was music: the sky-punching swagger of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with Rattle in London, and Saint-Saëns’ Fourth Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough and Edward Gardner in Birmingham.

These were proper concerts, so here’s a proper review.

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