Birmingham Philharmonic - Elgar Hall by Christopher Morley

Amateur orchestras are advised to programme to their strengths, but that's a bit superfluous in the case of one of the finest amateur orchestras in the land, the Birmingham Philharmonic, with strengths in every department -- hence their wide-ranging repertoire.
Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony was an obvious choice for the BPO's most recent concert, highlighting its gifted woodwind section (Alastair Moseley's clarinet a constantly effective presence, and not just in the hair-raising capers of the finale), its horn section for which many professional outfits would give their eye-teeth (Tim Stidwill noble and soulful in the andante's famous opening solo), and strings which articulated responsively under the vigorous and encouraging baton of Richard Laing, himself an experienced orchestral violinist.
There were downsides to this showcasing however. However adept the bassoons, their prominence meant that the triple piano Tchaikovsky asks of them on their lowest possible note at the end of the first movement emerged as triple forte, thereby unbalancing the chordal structure. And the trombones, biting, sturdy, rasping and thrilling, were simply too loud, throughout not only the symphony, but in the selection of Dvorak Slavonic Dances which opened the programme. Too often Dvorak's gorgeous string melodies went virtually unheard.
Sound-pictures of a different kind were a problem in Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, a fey, narrative work which needs to take the listener into its soul. David le Page, for all his technical brilliance, moved from incident to incident without really "owning" the music (possibly his need to concentrate upon the gizmoness of his i-pad score proved a barrier).
This was a disappointingly under-projected account from one of this country's finest, though unsung, violinists, and the concluding bars, which should be a pearly duo with a sidekicking bass drum, went for very little.
Christopher Morley

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