Riches tumbled over each other in Friday’s end-of-year concert from Birmingham Conservatoire forces, but pride of place must go to the world premiere of Chaos and Cosmos, a 13-minute tone-poem for full orchestra by the 13-year-old Benjamin Britten.
This is an amazingly assured work, its large forces confidently handled and expressively annotated. It begins brilliantly, with uncanny presages of Walton’s First Symphony of almost a decade later. Violas (Britten’s own orchestral instrument) are given prominent treatment, and we hear echoes of Elgar and Sibelius; and we marvel all the time at the composer’s aural imagination - surely he cannot have heard that much orchestral music in remote Suffolk. Did it all come from perusing scores?
“Chaos” fares better than “Cosmos”, where everything sags. Never mind: this would make a useful pipe-opener to concerts, making a change from bog-standard overtures.
Lionel Friend directed the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra through a remarkably assured account.
And they collaborated alertly with soloist Yu-Fen Lin in Britten’s actually superfluous Piano Concerto (we’ve heard it all in Prokofiev, Ravel, Gershwin and Rachmaninov). Hers was a characterful, brilliant reading (and astonishingly from memory), scintillating and smiling, generous in lyrical moments, and technically jaw-dropping.
The concert was dedicated to the memory of Frank Shaw, former Chairman of Governors, and he would have been so proud of these young people, who could encompass the abrasiveness of Tippett in his Praeludium for Brass, Bells and Percussion (they missed a trick by not playing the Ritual Dances from Midsummer Marriage on this day of all days), and the sonorous nostalgia of Delius’ Sea Drift.
This crowned the Conservatoire’s week-long Delius-Ireland Festival, with Gwion Thomas the appealing baritone soloist. and Philip White training the fresh, responsive voices of the Birmingham Conservatoire Chorus to impressive displays of blend and attack.