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Review: English Symphony Orchestra at Elgar Concert Hall

This concert at the University of Birmingham hall had plenty of highlights but overall lacked sparkle

Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen

The conductor Kenneth Woods said Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is about “rhythm, will and joy” and he conducted a performance bursting with all three qualities.

The players, pushed to their limits, responded to the score’s sometimes ferocious demand for the most part – not always though. Occasionally when Beethoven wanted the horns to whoop joyously there came in response an agonized howl, but then it’s the least tractable of instruments.

Woods’ tempo choices were judicious, quick but not making the players gabble. The Allegretto was just that, without the stately reverential gait it’s sometimes made to plod at, but the movement’s elements of fantasy and mystery were not given their full due.

The final movement zipped along and benefited from Woods’ decision to divide the violins left and right making the most of Beethoven's antiphonal play – a trick Andris Nelsons missed in his otherwise excellent CBSO performance. The chamber sized orchestra sounded just right for this snug hall.

Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s performance of Mendelssohn’s E minor violin concerto can best be summed up as uneven, frustratingly so.

Her intonation was slightly sour at the concerto’s attention-grabbing start and occasionally thereafter.

In the cadenza everything was clean and perfectly centred – if only she could have played the whole concerto that way. She certainly played the opening movement with the requisite passion and the finale was vivacious and quick – the wind section had problems keeping up with her.

Mozart’s overture to Cosi fan Tutte sadly failed to sparkle, sounding like a decent but dull run-through.

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