St Francis’s Church in Bournville was at near capacity on Saturday night as acclaimed soloist Philip Fowke gave his account of Rachmaninov’s popular second piano concerto.
The British pianist, appearing uninhibited by the reduced-size instrument and setting, gave a reading free from affectation. Opportunities ripe for schmaltz were eschewed and Rachmaninov’s natural lyricism was allowed to speak on its own terms as a result. This approach conveyed something much closer to the work’s original context: that it was a humble attempt by the composer to end a three-year compositional drought, rather than anything its affirmative melodies may suggest.
The South Birmingham Sinfonia’s strings provided good support throughout with a rich and expansive tone. Wind intonation was an issue at times, but this is undoubtedly the bane of any non-professional orchestra.
Conductor Lee Differ directed with a sympathetic beat, and shaped the concert’s first half well, drawing drama from the sparkling textures of Rimsky Korsakov’s, Overture on Russian Themes and dynamism from the gypsy themes in Rachmaninov’s Caprice Bohemien.
As the standing ovation of an adoring audience at the concert’s close would demonstrate, the Sinfonia had indeed taken part in a noteworthy collaboration.
Rating * * * *