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Review: Sinfonia of Birmingham at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall

Stephen Hough is open-minded on applause between movements; there are some pieces, he's written, where the music simply demands it.

Stephen Hough is open-minded on applause between movements; there are some pieces, he’s written, where the music simply demands it.

Tonight, as Hough swept to the end of the first movement of Brahms’s First Concerto, and Michael Seal held the Sinfonia of Birmingham on a granite-like D minor chord, you could almost sense the capacity audience straining not to clap. Silence has never sounded so pregnant.

The very fact that the Sutton Coldfield Philharmonic Society had managed to secure Hough was remarkable enough – and made this the concert of the decade in Sutton Coldfield before a single note had been played. But it surpassed expectations.

Hough’s qualities are well-known; a bravura technique allied to a brilliantly pure and limpid tone. Even at Brahms’s most thunderous climaxes, Hough pealed out, bell-like; his power comes without heaviness.

In the deep quiet of the Adagio, his playing seemed possessed of a profound inner stillness that communicated itself to, and spread through, the orchestra.

The Sinfonia has rarely played more gloriously, always ready with a fresh surge of energy or a whispered phrase-end, as Seal and Hough together shaped this mighty concerto into the symphony-with-piano that Brahms surely conceived.

Earlier, Seal and the Sinfonia had dusted off the solitary Symphony by Juan Arriaga – a Schubertian delight with a mouth-watering little Scherzo, which had the misfortune to follow Beethoven’s Egmont overture.

Seal’s Beethoven has a rare authority and drive, and from the lethal opening bite of the basses to the blazing finish, this was a worthy curtain raiser to an exceptional concert.

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