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Review of City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Brahms

After an extended lay-off, the CCSO was back with a vengeance at West Road Concert Hall on Saturday night. Conductor Robert Hodge was obviously thrilled to welcome a capacity audience to a programme of music by the ‘Big 3’ – Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.

Freedom seemed to be largely the keynote of the evening’s musical choices. The Orchestra made a bold start with Beethoven’s ‘Leonore’ Overture No. 3. There is a narrative connected to the emergence of no fewer than 4 separate overtures to the composer’s opera ‘Fidelio’. But suffice it to say, No. 3 is the best known, a mini-symphony in itself, tracing the development of the opera from an initial moody sequence reflecting Florestan’s unjust imprisonment, to a peaceful one expressive of his desire for release (heralded by a trumpet call offstage), and then an ebullient finale celebrating Leonore’s success in effecting her husband’s liberation.

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (52360237)
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (52360237)

‘Fidelio’ (which Beethoven had originally wanted to be called ‘Leonore’) is one of the great Romantic statements about freedom. In many respects Saturday’s opening piece couldn’t have been a more appropriate one with which CCSO had decided to begin its resumption of performances. We’d had experience of being locked down ourselves, and the climactic music of the Overture represented (it’s to be hoped) a kind of deliverance for audience and performers alike. The joy in the Hall was almost tangible.

Next came J.S. Bach’s double violin concerto in D Minor, a demanding work for the two centre-stage musicians, as equally for the strings and harpsichord accompaniment. The Concerto in 3 movements was in the talented and sympathetic hands of the outgoing and incoming Leaders, Julia Frape and Philippa Barton respectively. The work, especially the affecting 2nd movement, had therefore an added element of poignancy at Julia’s departure (Leader since 2003) but, in the driving exuberance of the Finale, a sense, too, of lively anticipation with Philippa’s arrival.

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (52360255)
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (52360255)

The remainder of the programme was devoted to Brahms’s 2nd Symphony in D Major, Op. 73. One of the recurring tunes at the thematic heart of the impressive first movement owes something to the composer’s famous ‘Lullaby’. Yet although in this vein the Symphony’s broadly pleasant, sometimes melodic and rustic harmonies throughout were touched at times with elements of the tragic and disturbing, with ominous drum rolls or discordant interventions on the brass, the overall effect is anything but tragic. The ‘second’ (unlike Brahms’s ‘first’, which was 20 years in the making!) took only a few months to compose, and has all the joy of a sense of freedom, with Brahms essentially finding his own voice in the wake of Beethoven’s legacy.

The last movement seems to be constantly chasing towards what promises to be some form of revelation, and Robert Hodge and CCSO, doing full justice to its terrific fulfilment, were roundly applauded by their appreciative audience.


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