Over the last few weeks we have heard some remarkable Sibelius performances in honour of the old boy's 150th birthday just a matter of days ago, but none could have been more exhilarating than the Second Symphony which the Birmingham Conservatoire Repertoire Orchestra gave under Daniele Rosina at the end of term.
These youngsters have a rich, well-developed sound: nothing raucous in the brass, woodwind beautifully-tuned, strings deeply nourished, with scarcely a raw edge, and Rosina drew from them an account of this popular symphony which came up fresh and sparkling, a sure sign of magic in a well-prepared performance.
There were many highlights in his reading: an heroically lung-opening climax to the opening movement's melting-pot; a slow movement which gripped like an ancient Nordic saga; and a finale which built electrifyingly.
Tempi ebbed and flowed confidently, dynamics were subtle (not least from sensitively-articulating timpanist Stephen Plummer), and the unison violin rhetoric which was so much a Sibelius hallmark in this early period was delivered unflinchingly.
Masters student Margarita Mikhailova efficiently directed the premiere of undergraduate Blanka Stachelek's Vermilion Aura, a sunrise piece (like Nielsen's Helios, the opening of Debussy's La Mer, as well as that of Strauss's Alpensinfonie), strongly built from its atmospheric opening -- almost like Sibelius with microtones -- but disappointingly over almost as soon as it has begun. There is some excellent material here which well deserves developing.
After this curtain-opener Rosina gave us a Grieg Peer Gynt selection, valuable for a rare chance to hear the Arabian Dance and The Abduction of the Bride. Other better-known excerpts put the orchestra on its mettle, and the players came through with sleek phrasing and well-pointed accents. Now all they need is some brushing-up on platform procedures and then they will be truly be on the threshold of the professional carpet.