Birmingham Philharmonic review


Elgar Concert Hall, Birmingham University ****
The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra is right up there among the country's top amateur orchestras. It is also a very friendly one, and nowhere was that more apparent than in this heartwarming concert built around dedications to recently-departed members.
Bassoonist Mike Syrett was remembered in a stunningly moving account of John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen (from the film Saving Private Ryan), voices from the City of Birmingham Choir joining the BPO (and what crisp snare-drum contributions) in an account under conductor Michael Lloyd of Brucknerian gravity.
Another bassoonist, Sue Peters, was commemorated one of her favourite pieces, Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody no.1, woodwind exotically interweaving, the central viola solo eloquently given, and everything well driven in this orchestral showpiece, Lloyd producing some delicate dynamic engineering.
The Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony was given in memory of the popular and much respected principal second violin, Tony Smith. This is something the BPO has very much under its belt after a recent stunning account of the symphony, and its performance here was movingly inward and nuanced, with a persuasive harp contribution.
But the most substantial memorial came with the Birmingham premiere of Ian Rae's Pacific Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra, an affectionate portrait of the much-missed Richard Elliott, principal tuba with the BPO over decades.
This is an exuberant work, placing references to Elliott's favourite composers over a thudding texture of railway engines, about which he was passionate. We only missed an input about his passion for real ale, which I can witness at first hand from the days when I used to examine at his school his students, who loved him so much.
Rae's score remarkably brings in so many quotations, usually rhythmically transformed (so that, for example, the Lohengrin Wedding March becomes a waltz, and the Blue Danube Waltz becomes a tango), and ends with a tuba cadenza in which I ran out of space spotting them all.
Ian Foster was the tremendously accomplished and devoted soloist, deft, noble and virtuosic, and Lloyd's BPO collaborated with loving enthusiasm.
We ended, appropriately, with Elgar's Enigma Variations, itself dedicated to several of his friends, and here dedicated to all the BPO members who have passed. Strings, so immaculate in the Mahler, were occasionally untidy here, but this was a confident account, loving and stirring, even without the clinching organ at the end.
Christopher Morley

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