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Review: Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Elgar Concert Hall, University of Birmingham

Tim Stidwill's command of tone and dynamics was kaleidoscopic, his breath-control allowed supple phrasing, and his dextrous lip took him all the way through even the tongue-twisting coloratura of the finale.

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Elgar Concert Hall, University of Birmingham
****
Conductor Michael Lloyd
Conductor Michael Lloyd

Tim Stidwill is a chartered civil and structural engineer currently engaged on the redevelopment of Paradise Circus, a longterm project which has prompted the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra to decamp from its old base in Birmingham Conservatoire's Adrian Boult Hall and take up residence in the University of Birmingham's new Elgar Concert Hall.

He is also a brilliant French Hornist, principal with the said BPO, and on Sunday he delivered with the orchestra a spectacular account of Richard Strauss' First Concerto for the instrument. His command of tone and dynamics was kaleidoscopic, his breath-control allowed supple phrasing, and his dextrous lip took him all the way through even the tongue-twisting coloratura of the finale.

There was some wonderful woodwind articulation from Michael Lloyd's orchestra, John Franklin and Karen Collet particularly outstanding in the finale's tour de force for flutes. Applause from a packed auditorium and a hugely supportive orchestra was warm and prolonged.

This was the most recent work (1882!) on the programme, which began with Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus Overture, tubby-sounding at first, but progressing with a Mozartean fizz, and continued with an atmospherically dramatic Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture (with a clarinet duet from Alastair Moseley and Anton Clarke-Butler so gorgeously and sensitively blended).

We ended with one of the most difficult works BPO has tackled in recent years: not any early Stravinsky ballet, not any Strauss tone-poem or Mahler symphony, but the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven, which takes no prisoners and offers no hiding-place.

Lloyd drew a performance of raw vitality from his willing players. Certainly there was some untidiness and indeed some false entries, but the whole response to this fabulous piece was gratefully alert and alive to its irresistible energy. One might quibble at Lloyd's slowing-up at the end of an otherwise well-built slow movement, and his missing the opportunity to bang straight into the finale after the scherzo, but the whole thing went down a storm.

Two grumpy observations with which to end. If it's going to succeed as a venue for external bookings, the ECH really must sort out its box-office procedures (several seats were double-booked). And people were checking their smartphones during the concert. That's the thin end of an unthinkable wedge.

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