It is almost impossible to realise that Symphony Hall has for already 21 years been the jewel in Birmingham’s crown that it is, but Tuesday’s coming-of-age party atmosphere affirmed the fact, and made those of us who have been on the scene from day one feel ever-so-slightly aware of our advancing years.
In theory this was a CBSO concert; in practice it was a bit of a beanfeast, despite, after a sparkling Glinka ‘Russlan and Ludmilla’ Overture, the major offering of Elgar’s heartbreakingly poignant ‘Music Makers’ as the meat in the first half.
It was a good choice. If Symphony Hall doesn’t have its music makers, then who has? And ‘Music Makers’ was the main work in the CBSO’s first concert in the newly-refurbished Town Hall, elderly sister to the blushing young Symphony Hall.
Simon Halsey conducted, drawing from his world-class CBSO Chorus diction of consummate clarity and well-weighted tonal balance, and, often concentrating on the orchestra (the Chorus had already been well-trained beyond concern), revealing wonderful detail and securing flowing, often surprisingly swift, and appropriate tempi.
Christine Rice was the mezzo soloist, her tones warm and compassionate, her lower registers conveying rocklike solidity, her emotional involvement total.
The second half was a bit more of a jamboree under the genial baton of Andris Nelsons, Bryn Terfel working the audience audaciously in a sequence of operatic titbits, casting a spell in Chris Hazell’s arrangements of ‘Folk Songs from the British Isles’ (could be good fodder for the Last Night of the Proms), and then chilling us as Scarpia in the “Te Deum” from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, the CBSO Chorus collaborating with magnificent sonority.
We ended with a reminder of Symphony Hall’s first-ever public concert evening, which the CBSO under Simon Rattle concluded with Ravel’s complete ‘Daphnis and Chloe’. Tonight Nelsons ended with the Suite no. 2 from the ballet’s score, certainly a glittering orchestral showpiece (you will never hear the central Pantomime’s flute solo better delivered than by Marie-Christine Zupancic here), but such tedious travelogue music, choral expectorations and all; I bet Ravel blushed guiltily even as he raked in the takings almost exactly one hundred years ago.