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Review: Turangalila-Symphonie at Birmingham Town Hall

Christopher Morley reviews Turangalila-Symphonie by Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall.

I doubt Birmingham Town Hall has heard such a volume of sound since its reopening in 2007 as the remarkable Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra raised on Friday with an extraordinary account of Messiaen's massive Turangalila-Symphonie.

The occasion brought back memories of CBSO performances here of this intoxicating piece, and the BCSO, well-drilled, enthusiastic and adept did not suffer in comparison.

Under the neat, clear and authoritative baton of Pierre-Andre Valade these young players delivered this kaleidoscopic, technically taxing score with huge engagement, every section of the orchestra making its own valuable contribution, from the hardworking ticking percussionists to the lush, shimmering strings.

Though lush was not the only attribute of those instruments, as they also articulated with biting ferocity, notably the excellent double-basses at the very opening of this lengthy, stamina-sapping wotk.

Plenty of decibels, yes, but also interludes of arresting quietness, not least when duetting clarinets reminded us of one of the music's three melodic threads (very Petrushka-like).

And Petrushka-like too is much of the solo piano-writing, brilliantly despatched by late-replacement pianist Matthew Schellhorn, his playing poised and piquant, Valade's balancing of textures allowing all the pianist's detail to tell.

So we come to the famous Ondes Martenot, that Heath Robinson-like instrument which transports us to the stars. Jacques Tchamkerten presided over this box of tricks with magisterial calm, flecking the soundworld with gurgling meteorites of delight.

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