Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra plays Mahler Seven


Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall *****

It is a brave orchestra that tackles Mahler's mighty, enigmatic Seventh Symphony, with its focus on every instrument within the huge complement, and its far-reaching demands upon stamina and concentration. It is a brave conductor, too, charged with marshalling these vast forces and long-distance structures.
Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra has an illustrious history in Mahler performance (beginning under their legendary past conductor Kenneth Page), and one which has continued into the present day with the living legend of a conductor who is Michael Lloyd. Together these forces reinforced that reputation with an account of the symphony which would have been the envy of many professional ensembles.
Over the opening's mysterious oar-lapping Saphran Ali's tenor horn called elementally across the midnight waters, launching the work's gradual progress from darkness to the finale's blazing light.
Along the way there was so much to relish: the lift and elan of the strings; the judicious power of the heavy brass; the nobility of the horns; the interweaving intricacy of the woodwinds; the resourcefulness of the busy percussion section.
Lloyd brilliantly held a long view of the structure as it unfolded, drawing detail after detail from his forces, balancing dynamics and textures (so often chamber music-like with concertmaster Charlotte Moseley discreetly leading her colleagues), and keeping everyone's head as the glorious pageantry of the finale led us through medieval banners, pennants and bunting to a sunlit conclusion.
Proud, bell-lifting horns and colourful percussion tintinnabulations added to the general gaiety, but a special mention of the timpanist, whose amazing fanfaring opening to the finale woke the patient guide-dog lying so placidly near me, and who spent the rest of the movement wondering what on earth was going on.
Christopher Morley

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