Three pages of erudite programme notes were undoubtedly meant to shine light on Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto ‘Offertorium’, but this is a work of such complexity that it was difficult to appreciate it fully in a single performance; impossible to keep track. Bach was the initial inspiration but tied in with Webern’s interpretation of the same theme. Many interesting solos emerged from within the orchestra, plus a mass of percussion effects from five busy players.
Written originally for Gidon Kremer in 1980 it was fascinating to realise that tonight’s young Latvian soloist, Baiba Skride, was playing a 1734 Stradivarius on loan from Kremer. A brave lady to tackle such an intricate, taxing work with total confidence and breath-taking composure. Un-fazed by demanding cadenzas, swooping portamenti,exacting double-stopping, almost inaudible harmonics, relief came at last with exquisitely gentle long velvety phrases. Tolling bells eventually lulled the imagination with symbolic gestures towards orthodox faith, firmly discounting Russian dictatorship.
Andris Nelsons was obviously in his element conducting his first Birmingham performance of the Shostakovitch Symphony No 10: a significant showpiece subtly reflecting the uncertainty and fears prevalent at the time.
Beginning with the unfolding of sombre drama, the symphony develops with many significant solos for woodwinds, not least Andrew Lane delivering heroic piccolo solos throughout. Nelsons shows total control as smoke rises from the ranks: chunky strings, dramatic brass with special mention for impressive horn calls from Mark Philips. Red hot percussion highlighted the unbearable anticipation leading to final tensions and roof-raising chords.