CBSO/Matheuz – review

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Still in his 20s, Diego Matheuz is already the principal conductor at La Fenice in Venice, and chief guest of Claudio Abbado's Orchestra Mozart and the Melbourne Symphony. He is a product of the Venezuelan El Sistema, a violinist first, who played in the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, where he gained his first conducting experience.

Matheuz's debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony also introduced an unfamiliar Latin American composer, with the European premiere of the Mexican Enrico Chapela's Magnetar, a concerto for electric cello first performed in 2011 in Los Angeles. It was tailor-made for Johannes Moser, who was the stylish soloist with the CBSO, with the composer seated next to him controlling the balance and myriad effects that can be obtained from the skeletal instrument. Though the piece was inspired by astrophysics – magnetars are a form of neutron star, the most intensely magnetic objects in the universe – it turns out to be an easily digestible, straightforward three-movement work, a mix of woozy lyrical lines and driving figuration, given a slightly exotic edge by the electronics.

Around the premiere, Matheuz placed works that gave little away about his insights as a conductor. There was more Mexican music to begin the concert – a suitably brash account of José Pablo Moncayo's brief Huapango, essentially just one big noisy crescendo – and the second half was given over to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, with a 50-minute conflation of movements from all three of the suites that the composer extracted from his ballet. The whole sequence was beautifully judged by Matheuz, with some refined string textures in the number for Romeo and Juliet alone and the final Death of Juliet, and wonderfully sharp articulation from the orchestra in the Death of Tybalt. But perhaps when Matheuz returns to Birmingham, he'll bring a programme with a bit more substance to it.

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Andrew Clements

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