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Review: Henry V, CBSO at Birmingham Symphony Hall

The first in the CBSO's concerts devoted to music inspired by “Our Shakespeare” began with Richard Strauss's seldom-heard tone poem Macbeth.

Edward Gardner

The first in the CBSO's concerts devoted to music inspired by “Our Shakespeare” began with Richard Strauss's seldom-heard tone poem Macbeth.

In the play it's said of the executed traitor Cawdor that “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it”: I felt the same about Strauss's youthful work.

The final sinister quiet passage for strings, with a muted hollow fanfare, and a cataclysmic fortissimo was impressive. Earlier there was too much insignificant sound and fury, despite Edward Gardner's proselytizing conducting and the orchestra's full-throttle playing. Still, it's good to hear rarities, such as the ballet music from the Paris version of Verdi's Macbeth.

The dance of Hecate and the witches is not in the least satanic but the final waltz is wittily grotesque and was vivaciously played.

The CBSO Chorus, prepared by Julian Wilkins, performed Vaughan Williams' Three Shakespeare Songs and excelled in the charmingly delicate Full Fathom Five.

They ended the concert in full cry with the stirring Deo gratias conclusion to Walton's music for Laurence Olivier's 1944 film of Henry V.

Christopher Palmer weaved the film cues, some other Walton filler material and the play's great speeches into a convincing and moving hour-long Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario.

The narrator Samuel West played the King, the Chorus (and more) switching between swagger and sobriety with ease and delivering a St Crispin's Day speech that would have made even a pacifist feel like taking up arms.

Gardner elicited playing of equal ardour from the orchestra. Splendid!

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