It is very flattering when a remark one made five years ago is still being quoted. But to see it printed seven times in a programme, as it was on Sunday, is rather over-egging the pudding.
Still, the Birmingham Phil has good reason to boast, as these enthusiastic amateurs regularly achieve a level of technical proficiency and musical integrity more usually associated with professional orchestras.
They showed it most impressively in Rossini’s Silken Ladder Overture, with well co-ordinated and fizzily confident strings, horns and woodwind immaculate in their enunciation of the main theme, and a froth that guest conductor Marco Romano never allowed to go flat.
By contrast, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon stayed resolutely earthbound.
Romano conceived – and even directed – it as a series of broad strokes rather than delicately observed statements of light and shade.
Articulation and phrases showed a reluctance to float off the page, and it was left to the four soloists (all BPO section principals) to provide what subtlety there was, which they did quite commendably, and in oboist Anne Hagyard’s case most elegantly.
Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, however, was a real ear-opener. Here, phrasing did soar and sing, accents had cut and thrust, and Romano – conducting without a score – focused all his attention on texture, balance, dynamics and rhythmic drive.
The three fast movements conveyed a thrilling sense of momentum – especially the opening Allegro con brio – and even the Funeral March (such an inspiration for Berlioz) moved purposefully along with a dark intensity that never resorted to dramatic excess.
So, is the BPO still one of the best non-professional orchestras in the land? You bet it is.