Elgar-country towns were very well represented at Symphony Hall as coachloads of supporters were delivered to the doors of the venue for what was marketed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as the “Enigma Variations”. A full house on a Tuesday afternoon is becoming the norm, for which the marketing department must take loads of credit.

Behzod Abduraimov © Benjamin Ealovega | Decca Classics
Behzod Abduraimov
© Benjamin Ealovega | Decca Classics

However, if Elgar’s work was designed to be the great attraction, it was usurped by the performance of Piano Concerto no. 2 in G minor by Camille Saint-Saëns and an encore that will have been most talked about on the journeys home. At 26, Behzod Abduraimov’s effortless keyboard virtuosity clearly destines him for an international career at the very top level. This handsome young man has an impish smile. He showed this at the end of the first movement when, having lost traction with one side of the leather seat, simply stood to turn the stool through 180 degrees.

With an audience, already warming to his sensational playing, their affection for him increased as he demonstrated his approval of the increased traction with further crisp brilliance. This young man brought jaw-dropping brilliance to Saint-Saëns’ best loved piano concerto with its challenging changes of pace. Abduraimov showed his supreme skill with fingers flowing freely across the octaves. Without a hint of outrageous exuberance he produced an exhilarating performance to be followed immediately by his most favoured encore – the third of Liszt’s six Grandes Études de Paganini, taken from the last movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto no. 2, namely La campanella in which the little handbell rings prominently. Abduraimov recreated that little bell via remarkable right hand trills with all the technical difficulties appearing to be nonchalantly overcome.

With recent experience as Music Director at the Bolshoi Theatre, conductor Vassily Sinaisky is very well placed to deliver Tchaikovsky’s suite from The Sleeping Beauty, an afterthought in 1890 following the ballet’s première. Jonathon Quirk’s cornet, Rainer Gibbons’ oboe, Rachel Pankhurst’s cor anglais and, not least, Katherine Thomas’ harp contributions were given special recognition by Sinaisky. Thomas held the full house in awe and utter silence during her several interventions. So, too, the percussion section’s use of the glockenspiel enjoyed the same respectful silence.

Five cello desks were fully involved in the twelfth of Elgar’s Enigma Variations – B.G.N (after Basil Nevinson, the cellist member of Elgar’s chamber music trio). Section leader, Eduardo Vassallo’s influential solo lines helped the forging of a strong partnership with Sinaisky, who duly recognised his efforts when thanking him and every other section leader he could reach. These warm recognitions brought to an end the CBSO’s always spirited but sometimes disjointed account of Elgar’s work; the one which finally secured his reputation as a composer of international standing.