Shostakovitch: Festive Overture, Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 2, Borodin: Symphony No. 2

JOHN CLAPHAM sees CUSO deliver the last installment of what has been a fantastic year of classical music.

Borodin craigen cums CUSO shostakovitch strauss Symphony

West Road Concert Hall, Friday 18th May, 7.30 pm,  £5/£13/£16

[rating: 3/5]

The final CUSO concert of the year was a fitting end, demonstrating the orchestra’s range and enthusiasm in an exciting programme.

Shostakovich’s Festive Overture got the concert off to an emphatic beginning despite occasional, distracting splits from some trumpets in the opening fanfares. The presto section did not rush, a common problem for this work, and there was plenty of clear, precise and rhythmic playing throughout from the orchestra. Unfortunately, the exception to this rule came in the form of some lazy and late snare drum playing as the piece progressed. Nevertheless, the ending was thrilling as the orchestra let loose one last time. Overall, this piece was performed well, although at certain points I felt it was a little too English.

Next came Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 2 , featuring the excellent Stephen Craigen as soloist. Craigen’s playing was superb, featuring great dynamic range, great technical ability and a consistently rich tone. There were some splits in the more sustained passages, but this was only to be expected in such a difficult work. The relationship between the orchestra and soloist was good, especially the solos in the clarinet and cello parts. At times, the string parts sounded slightly immature and lacked the warmth needed for such a luxuriant work. I also felt the need for a little more ebb and flow in the tempi, which sometimes came across as slightly too rigid and safe.

Following the interval came another accomplished performance, this time of Borodin’s Symphony No. 2. Once more, the orchestra demonstrated their ability to really let go in the opening Allegro, with some very strong playing in the opening moments. The strings again tended to lack maturity in the softer moments rather than the louder, when the sound had a tendency to become thin and very front-desk orientated.

The second movement featured a good level of crisp and rhythmic playing, but occasionally the ensemble of the orchestra became uncomfortable. Some beautiful and lyrical playing in the Andante was somewhat ruined by brutally exposed tuning issues between the harp and the rest of the orchestra – a real shame considering some particularly fine playing from woodwind throughout the movement. The final movement ended the concert on a high with more enthusiastic and rhythmic playing from all sections.

This was another solid performance from CUSO, and I’m sure all involved will be looking forward to a fresh programme of events next year.