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Review: First and Last by Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at
Elgar Concert Hall, Birmingham

Forget clinical professionalism, there’s nothing to beat a warts-and-all amateur performance delivered with total commitment – and this BPO concert had it in spades.

****
Conductor Michael Lloyd
Conductor Michael Lloyd

The violins’ long top A at the start of Mahler’s First Symphony may have wavered a bit, and we could hardly hear the offstage trumpets (someone should have put a foot in the door), but it hardly mattered.

Under the experienced hands of Michael Lloyd this was in many respects a stunningly accomplished achievement.

True, the first movement seemed to take ages to get under way (why does Mahler take so long to get to the point?) but Lloyd refused to dawdle, focusing more on the breadth of paragraphs than minutiae of individual phrases; and although the Scherzo’s Ländler trio needed to swoon more, the slow movement (super clarinets in the Klezmer-band sections) oozed with banal sentimentality.

And what a splendid thing the finale was, often raw in tone and luridly colourful, with Mahler’s seven horns (here bumped up to a round dozen) gloriously rampant in the nerve-shattering denouement.

On a less extreme level the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss provided a totally different experience. Lloyd’s control of the large orchestral palette enabled lustrous soprano Alison Roddy to be heard without hindrance, and in a few instances even matched her vocal subtleties.

The endings of Beim Schlafengehn, with its tender violin solo (leader Shulah Oliver), and the final song, where everything descends into darkness before being lifted up by a chirruping new dawn, were particularly well managed and immensely moving.

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