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Review: Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Adrian Boult Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Adrian Boult Hall
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This was the second time in a few weeks I’ve heard the orchestra perform Elgar’s King Arthur Suite and it’s been a great pleasure on both occasions. He wrote it in 1922 to accompany his friend Laurence Binyon’s stage drama and originally it was a series of short cues using just 13 players in the pit orchestra

The BPO clearly relish Robert Kay’s arrangement of five pieces for full orchestra producing a performance both sensitive and rhythmically dynamic. Michael Lloyd conducted the opening movement.

The King and Sir Lancelot with the right sort of Elgarian nobilmente – proud but never pompous. The rollicking Banqueting Scene showcased the BPO’s excellent brass section, with Richard Elliott’s characterful tuba revealing the music’s affinity with Elgar’s Falstaff while the muted trumpets signalled that even in peacetime conflict is always waiting to erupt, as it later does in the Battle Scene.

Vaughan Williams’ Wasps Overture began with a flourish of crisply articulated strings progressing through perkily played folk themes for a wholly satisfying performance. His Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus was well characterised especially the wistful minor key third variant which had graceful contributions from harpist Cathy White and the orchestra’s guest leader Shulah Oliver.

I found Eric Martens’ performance of Elgar’s cello concerto rather like the English summer – fine and sunny in spells but interrupted by occasional squalls. The latter tended to occur mostly (but not exclusively) in tricky high-lying and fast-moving passages, particularly in the scherzo, with a wince-inducing effect on this listener.

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