A Coming of Age; CLASSICALREVIEWS

The Birmingham Post (England), July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Coming of Age; CLASSICALREVIEWS


Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra Birmingham Town Hall Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave undoubtedly its finest performance in its long and busy history, when it performed nothing less than Mahler's mighty, probing and technically demanding Sixth Symphony under the brilliantly clear conducting of Lionel Friend.

This was no embryo symphony orchestra waiting to be hatched into the great wide world: this was a fullyfledged ensemble trained in every department to the highest standards, and delivering a totally professional account of one of the world's greatest symphonies.

We have heard many full-time symphony orchestras in this masterpiece, possibly jaded in a "been here, done that" kind of way. But this was different, with an approach of such freshness, strings richly-nourished, woodwind fearlessly eloquent, brass colourfully imposing, harps so resonant, percussion brilliantly adept - how gratifying to see the finale's famous hammer-blows rendered with such little fuss but with so much effect. And Amy Littlewood led this huge orchestra stylishly and capably.

Credit to the meticulous sectional rehearsals which built towards this triumph, but even more credit to Friend, directing his last concert as conductor-in-residence of the orchestra.

Fortunately we are not going to lose his invaluable input, as he has accepted the post of Conductor Emeritus.

As he told us afterwards, this was a work he had always wanted to conduct, and his enthusiasm radiated irresistibly to the students.

And his interpretation of this wondrous score even made me forgive his placing of the slow movement second (when in my opinion it should be third), as we discussed in an exhilarating pre-concert interview.

Rating: 5/5 Christopher Morley Ex Cathedra The Oratory, Birmingham Superlatives are not enough for this final concert in Ex Cathedra's 40th anniversary season. Jeffrey Skidmore and his choir surpassed themselves as ever, with a truly magnificent performance of Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil (Vespers).

Perfect twilight melted into gentle candlelight for this late evening concert, doubtlessly challenging for the singers, but enchanting for their audience, bemused and awestruck by the soft colours of the Oratory's magnificent space.

How is it possible for a Birmingham choir to sound authentically Slavonic, we wondered? Apparently perfectly possible, as the Oratory rang with the ancient church language.

Translations were available but difficult to see in the subdued light, so the music said everything.

Published in 1915 this timeless music only occasionally hinted at the 20th century, with fleeting glimpses of Mother Russia, haunting folk allusions and eerie rare snippets of dance rhythms catching the imagination.

The quality of all of the voices was truly east European, particularly mezzo soprano Lucy Ballard and Jeremy Budd's exquisite tenor; whether plaintive or imposing. Balance was always of paramount importance with intricate part singing blending perfectly for the soloists. Imaginative writing provided inspired rocking accompaniments, beautifully-paced long phrases and throughout an exceptional range of dramatic dynamics. One waited with baited breath for the anticipated rich velvet chords anchored with subterranean low B flats from basses, so rare in an English setting. Unaccompanied throughout, the choir ranged from full joyous fortissimos - "Alleluias" to the fore - passing through a whole gamut of textures before finally melting to the merest whisper. A total tour-de-force for all concerned.

Rating: 5/5 Maggie Cotton CBSO/Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony Hall Gy|rgy Ligeti's violin concerto, with its unique, sometimes bizarre, sound world and unconventional scoring, at first appears to simply cock a snook at the great romantic concerto tradition. But it is retains the adversarial element of that tradition. …

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