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Review: Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, at Adrian Boult Hall

Concerts of excerpts can often make for grim evenings lacking in depth, but the energy and enthusiasm with which the Birmingham Philharmonic performed on Sunday meant this simply wasn’t possible.

Concerts of excerpts can often make for grim evenings lacking in depth, but the energy and enthusiasm with which the Birmingham Philharmonic performed on Sunday meant this simply wasn’t possible.

Presenting a programme inspired by myth and magic, any sceptical notion of the orchestra shielding itself by careful selection was dispelled by certain inclusions.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was one. None of the nuances in this rich score were overlooked. The tune was characterfully delivered by the bassoons and trumpets, and the contrabassoon’s moment of glory was joyous. In a concert showcasing magic, any other orchestra lacking the confidence or the quality would have conveniently forgotten Dukas’s mini-masterpiece.

Concluding with John Williams’s music for Star Wars also demonstrated the confidence with which the orchestra was performing, and it certainly was not foolhardy. The way the BPO responded to the unquestionably demanding score, especially in the effective percussion and gutsy brass, was truly astounding.

Tellingly, it was in the programme’s 19th-century elements where the few problems manifested themselves. Despite their numbers, the strings struggled to compete in tone and volume with the superb winds. Whilst not disrupting the concert’s more contemporary items, this became problematic when faced with the broad, expansive phrases of Smetana’s Ma Vlast and Weber’s Oberon Overture.

Overall, though, the standard achieved was astonishing, and Richard Laing, who conducted with a consistent vigour and enthusiasm, deserves particular praise.

Rating * * * *

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