Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra 80th anniversary concert
Birmingham Town Hall
5 stars *****
Eighty years is a ripe age for any orchestra, and two years after Covid scuppered the planned anniversary concert, the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra didn’t stint on what was actually its 82nd birthday celebration. The BPO had assembled a chorus specially for the occasion, and with representatives from (among others) Birmingham Bach Choir, Wolverhampton Chamber Choir, Dudley Choral Society and Walsall Choral Society, what was billed as a birthday party for the West Midlands’ pre-eminent amateur orchestra actually served as a much wider showcase for regional amateur music making at its most buoyant.
You wouldn’t have guessed that this was an ad hoc choir: tuning was secure, ensemble was tight and the tone glowed, especially up top. With the entire first half devoted to Elgar’s The Music Makers – the last masterpiece thar Egar created specifically to be sung here in Birmingham Town Hall – there was a real sense of occasion, and the chorus certainly had ample opportunity to shine. They laid banks of luminous sound under the solo mezzo, an eloquent Wendy Dawn Thompson, and responded alertly to the conductor, BPO’s long-serving music director Michael Lloyd. The effect was lustrous; the actual words, alas, were wholly indecipherable. The Town Hall acoustic claims another victim.
Then it was on to Beethoven’s Ninth (Choral) Symphony, and the orchestra took the spotlight (for the first three movements, at least). You wouldn’t guess that Lloyd has been with them for so long: it was forceful, urgent, crisply articulated and almost breathlessly energetic – with timpanist Yufei Zhu putting dynamite under the scherzo. In the Adagio, woodwind and strings sang together as if in a choir of their own; the horns and flutes, in particular, wove tender magic. And (after a ringing introduction from bass Keel Watson) the choral finale was everything you could hope and more: hurtling full speed to a finish that brought the Town Hall audience cheering to its feet. Let’s hope we all sound this youthful when we’re past 80…