REVIEW: York Symphony Orchestra, December 8

Cellist Cara Berridge: “Displayed beautifully rounded, resonant tone”

York Symphony Orchestra (YSO)/Venn; Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, December 8

YORK Symphony Orchestra’s newish conductor Edward Venn likes to take risks – and with the largest work on Sunday’s menu he was notably successful.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony overtly moves from tragedy to triumph. Beneath the surface, it is heavily laced with irony: Stalin’s Great Purge threatened the composer himself. The performance reflected this.

The violins quickly recovered from a tentative opening and thereafter never looked back. The central march accelerated majestically and the change to the major key was nicely controlled, before a chilling close with celeste to the fore. The scherzo provided just the comic relief we needed, Claire Jowett’s solo violin leading the way.

With the brass side-lined, first the strings, then the woodwinds conjured a rapt, almost religious, intensity in the Largo, typified by the trio of harp and two flutes. The finale’s mounting crescendo, with brass back in the fray, kindled anger rather than triumph, despite the brief oasis of calm. It was a splendid achievement, owing much to Venn’s impressive familiarity with the score.

Earlier, as soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Cara Berridge displayed beautifully rounded, resonant tone. But in a work notorious for its stop-go pitfalls, she and Venn too rarely took the same view of the music. The result was tuneful but episodic, too many trees and not enough wood. The orchestra sustained a respectful diffidence. Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave had made a bold, brash curtain-raiser. But the Shostakovich was something else.

Review by Martin Dreyer