Why the CBSO’s Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2 with Kazuki Yamada was ‘exquisite’

Sometimes it’s not really enough to say a performance was beautiful, stunning or ravishing. The adjective on its own doesn’t really do the job, even though sometimes I’m the first to admit that in my rush to get something written down the adjective is the only thing that comes to mind.

Sometimes there’s a need to explain why the adjective has been chosen. Case in point with the CBSO’s exquisite performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 last night at the BBC Proms, conducted by their soon to be Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Kazuki Yamada.

Why exquisite? Because it was one of those rare occasions when the music seemed to be allowed the space it needed to live and breathe. It was as though Yamada had found the moment to trigger the emotion and wasn’t in any hurry to leave anyone behind. None more so than in the third movement where the opening vulnerable clarinet solo was by the conclusion, transformed into something more healing, perhaps even defiant.

To be able to hold onto the moment for what felt like just the right amount of time before letting go and heading in a different direction made this an incredibly special listening experience. We were given the chance to be acquaint ourselves with what was going on. We didn’t linger but we weren’t railroaded either.

For a specific example go to 1 hour 43 minutes and 25 seconds (on BBC Sounds – Prom 14) and listen to the upper strings slow right down until the last note that resolves the chord. (The encore – Elgar’s Chanson De Nuit – illustrates the same technique to even greater effect. )

Prom 14: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Chief Conductor Designate Kazuki Yamada in the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 25 July 2022. Photo by Mark Allan/BBC

To see 90+ musicians directed by one conductor, all pull in one direction to create such a delectable moment in itself. To know that an audience experienced it with them – a musical in-breath and out-breath – reinforces why live performance is such a wondrous cultural encounter, and serves to illustrates what makes this art form so remarkable.

That was just being in the hall. The radio broadcast mix combined depth in the basses and detail in the upper strings and woodwind, exposing some of the detail in the work I’d not heard before. In the third movement in particular, the intertwining of solo melodic lines after the false ending was magical stuff.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2022/23 Season gets underway on Friday 16 September.

📸Mark Allan