Mufti-dressed musicians reinforced the party atmosphere for Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra’s 70th birthday concert, but in his post-performance speech conductor Michael Lloyd, immaculately dressed, chose not to dwell on the anniversary but to pay tribute instead to the unceasing commitment of the members.
And this was a point well made. This is a huge orchestra, with such a squad of talented players, and one which enables the BPO to present works beyond the economic means of professional outfits. Nothing extragavant, however, about the pieces on offer here, reflecting aspects of the BPO’s history.
The performers obviously enjoyed a rip-roaring account of Malcolm Arnold’s Tam O’Shanter Overture, with its fulsome winds, whooping, chuntering and farting, everything delivered with swagger and confidence. But the decibels were pitched too high, and the resulting noise was uncomfortable to members of the packed audience.
Holst’s Egdon Heath brought the balm of a totally different sound-world. This was a well-measured, sustained account of this searching, bleak-visioned music. Somewhat similar in atmosphere was Delius’ Brigg Fair, raptly begun and initially lilting, but doesn’t it go on; time and again we clutched at an apparent ending, discarded as the music continued down its merry way of saying nothing at great length.
Thank goodness for the pithy concision of Walton’s Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, the Prelude nobly delivered, the Fugue setting a crackling pace which the strings accommodated triumphantly.
And we ended with an electric reading of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, tense, driving, and with oases of repose marshalled by Owen Gregory’s lovely cor anglais.
Brass were outstanding, as they had been throughout the afternoon, but this party-pooper needs to draw attention to intonation issues within sections of the woodwind, and to the less-than-involved body-language of certain players when they were in lengthy repose.