Orchestra of the Swan at Birmingham Town Hall by Christopher Morley
This might have been an elegiac occasion, with Orchestra of the Swan giving its final concert as Associate Artist of Birmingham Town Hall. There have been happy events here too many to remember, featuring an array of soloists both international and local to excite a steadily-building, loyal and enthusiastic audience.
Instead this concert proved an exhilarating farewell before OOTS' move to residency at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, bringing back one of the orchestra's much-loved visitors (cellist Raphael Wallfisch) and introducing us to three charming newcomers (conductor Eckehard Stier, violinist Hagai Shaham and pianist Arnon Erez). These four gentlemen joined me in a stimulating pre-concert conversation.
And they gave us a Beethoven Triple Concerto which stripped away its layers of necessary repetition (equal limelight for each soloist) and instead illuminated every shift of texture with delight and sensitively-shifting balance between the instruments. The intimate platform layout helped, soloists grouped as a chamber-music trio, conductor resting his score modestly on the piano, as did the almost palpable mutual listening apparent between soloists, conductor, and indeed the orchestra.
Beethoven in C major had been preceded by Beethoven in his grimmest C minor, Stier directing a Coriolan overture taut and ticking, punch and attack invigorating the OOTS players.
There was no better way to end OOTS' Town Hall residency than with Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, the composer's presence smiling down from the magnificent organ-loft whose installation he had supervised nearly two centuries ago. Busy and bustling, Stier's direction nevertheless made room for an ethereal flute halo from Diane Clarke during the Pilgrim's March, just one highlight from OOTS' enviable woodwind complement.