A large symphony that includes a part for chorus in the final movement, and that continues to cause arguments regarding its politics? Nope, not Beethoven’s Ninth (the BBC Philharmonic pay respect to his anniversary with the early Cantata for the death of Emperor Joseph II later in the season), but the sixth of Nikolay Myaskovsky’s 27 symphonies. A contribution to the Russian tragic tradition lacking the rock-bottom hopelessness of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, the Sixth is a gloomy expanse of dark-hued themes with momentary sparks of light, ironic absurdity. It is a strange piece, comparable in length and proportions to Shostakovich’s Fourth, and, with a lengthy first movement and the brazen brass lines, the comparisons continue. But Myaskovsky’s structural integrity brings his symphonic style into a different territory. It borrows flavours from all, orchestrated in a dense way to create a stodgy winter’s broth of a piece.

Vassily Sinaisky © Marco Borggreve
Vassily Sinaisky
© Marco Borggreve

Tasked with making sense of this soup was regular Guest Conductor, Vassily Sinaisky, a favourite in Manchester. Whilst the tendency was to let the lurching themes of the Myaskowsky become indulgent, his gentle authority over the evening’s succession of Russian music meant it never seemed to disrupt the creation of a grander picture. The excellently prepared members of the CBSO Chorus really justified the inclusion of a choir (the revised score makes the chorus optional), as a more melancholic way of telling Myaskovsky’s tragic song. Their fatalistic address concluded a vast swathe of a work that I didn’t warm to particularly, but that was excellently executed by BBC Philharmonic (and their stellar wind section).

The second of Szymanowski’s violin concertos deals in similar currency. It’s a single-movement work cast over twenty minutes that proves a huge task for the soloist, who is required to constantly soar high above the thick texture. It differs from the First quite considerably, although Szymanovski almost seems to be caught between two worlds – a passionate, glistening character and a rustic style almost predating Copland. Stand-in soloist Liza Ferschtman dazzled between these two characters, the more impressive of the two being her folksy fiddling, with echoes of the late great Stephane Grappelli in her nonchalant double-stopped sliding. This was obviously her strong suit; her intelligent encore – Eugene Ysaÿe’s Sunrise – was a seamless coda, gently ending the turbulent work.

By way of contrast, the buoyant sounds of music from Rimsky-Korsakov’s satire The Golden Cockerel formed the overture to the evening’s programme. Following the steely, exposed trumpet opening, this was some of the best storytelling of the evening, where the partnership between conductor and orchestra was at its most vivid and comfortable. Sinaisky, in full parade mode, was allowed free rein to add sparkle where necessary. Of an intriguing programme, hearing the results of this happy relationship was certainly my highlight.

****1