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Music Review

IT'S no secret that for years I was no more than an occasional, and lukewarm, admirer of Andrew Manze as a conductor.

(I preferred him as a superb Baroque violinist.) Conversion can take time, but on Thursday night I was comprehensively blown away by the white-hot performance of Schumann's Second Symphony that the BBC SSO produced for Manze, played with an almost incandescent immediacy.

There is a big picture to this complex symphony, one which not all conductors bring off the page and sustain. Manze had it all: the symphony never teetered. Its first movement was fired by his iron grip on the growing intensity that fuels it throughout, while successfully unleashing its torrential outpouring of energy. The Scherzo was fast, light and racing (almost endangering articulation) while the great slow movement (a love song) pulsed along, not wallowing, but breaking this listener's heart anyway, and the finale, at an astounding speed, with virtuoso orchestral ensemble playing, lashed the ears like a bracing wind.

It was a great performance, preceded by a supremely intelligent account of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto by Steven Osborne, blessed by the pianist's lucid articulation in the first movement, his sheer, intimate warmth in the great slow movement, and a very unusual vision of the finale, where the usual witty high jinks were replaced by a moderate speed and an exceptional amount of grace and refinement. Clearly, more than one way to skin that particular cat.

A splendid show, opening with trumpeter Mark O'Keeffe and cor anglais player James Horan conjuring vast space and stillness from Copland's Quiet City in an evening packed with insights, challenges, and alternative views.

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