Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra Das Rheingold


Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Symphony Hall *****
The horrors entailed in actually making it into Symphony Hall -- road closures because of the Great Birmingham Run, the ongoing Nightmare on Broad Street, lack of access into the ICC Mall, the renovations going on in the foyer -- were made wonderfully worthwhile by this mind-blowing performance of Wagner's Rheingold by what just has to be the finest non-professional orchestra in the land.
Conductor Michael Lloyd insists upon the highest possible playing standards from the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, and judging from the reactions of the amazed audience emerging at the end of the afternoon he is achieving marvels.
For this account of the most perfect opera in Wagner's Ring tetralogy he had prepared his musicians meticulously, with the result that come the show he was able to pace everything with a natural flow, balance these huge forces so subtly, and make the transitions between scenes genuine highspots in the score (the descent into Nibelheim was hair-raising).
Perhaps the brass could have warmed up more before the primordial opening of the work, but that does not detract from the overwhelming excellence of the orchestral playing. Highlights for me were the rasping of the contrabass-trombone to underpin the ungainly giants, and the luxury of six harps rippling the waves emerging from the depths of the Rhine.
There was a bewilderment of things to admire, including the well-judged timing of slides aloft at the back of the stage, bringing Arthur Rackham's quirky illustrations as well as a summary of the action going on. It was a good plan not to have actual surtitles detailing every line of the text, as that would have demanded too focussed a concentration from an audience which was already entranced. And what a well-researched, treasurable programme-book!
The soloists were never less than efficient, and there were some truly outstanding portrayals: Julian Close a sardonic, almost bored Wotan; John Graham-Hall's Loge properly treating the whole mess as an intellectual exercise: Alison Roddy a Freia displaying genuine fear of her fate as payment to the giants for their building of Valhalla; Andrew Shore an engaged and involving Alberich, brutal towards his snivelling brother Mime, the vivid Richard Roberts.
As I left I bumped into Natasha Day, Wellgunde among the three Rhinemaidens, and thanked and congratulated her. She was effusive in her praise of the BPO and of Michael Lloyd, and couldn't get over the fact that this had been an amateur presentation. Birmingham is blessed to have this orchestra. Other towns and cities had better hang onto their eye-teeth.
Christopher Morley

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