CBSO/Yamada review – chief conductor-in-waiting brings spirit but not subtlety

·2 min read

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
The Japanese conductor who takes over in Birmingham next year already has a strong connection with the players; while soprano Fatma Said impressed in Mozart arias

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra wasted no time in lining up a successor to Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Last autumn it revealed that Kazuki Yamada would take over as chief conductor from April 2023, and in his first appearance at Symphony Hall since the announcement, the warmth of the reception from both the orchestra and the rather meagre audience suggested that he is already set to be a favourite there.

From the alert playing that Yamada drew from the players it was clear, too, that they respond well to his ideas. The performances of Strauss’s symphonic poem Don Juan and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony were unfailingly spirited, even brash at times – the Strauss especially – but there was real panache about both of them. Yamada certainly doesn’t hold back at the big moments; some of the fortissimos tested even Symphony Hall’s exceptional acoustic, though at the other extreme, there was an absence of genuinely quiet playing.

There was a touch of schmaltz about the Mahler, which was accentuated by Yamada’s fondness for signalling transitions with diminuendos and sometimes rather exaggerated rubato, while the undercurrent of darkness that runs through the symphony was mostly unexplored. It was left to the soprano soloist in the finale, Fatma Said, to undercut the innocence of the Wunderhorn text with something more menacing.

Between the Strauss and the Mahler, it was Said who provided the evening’s most memorable moments in two late Mozart arias. Vado, ma Dove?, K583, written as an addition to an opera by Martín y Soler, showed off the Egyptian singer’s fabulously light, easy coloratura, while the central section of Non Più di Fiori, one of Vitellia’s numbers from La Clemenza di Tito, revealed a thrilling smoky darkness to her chest register, with the CBSO’s principal clarinet, Oliver Janes, providing the supple clarinet obligato.

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