Sinfonia of Birmingham review

CHRISOPHER MORLEY IS LEFT REELING AFTER HEARING THIS YEAR'S HIGHLIGHT


SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM
Pershore Abbey *****

I'm still reeling from witnessing an account of Rachmaninov's mighty Second Symphony which would have been a credit to any of the great orchestras both at home and abroad.
But these performers were not among the echelons of professional ensembles who rehearse virtually every day; this was the amazing Sinfonia of Birmingham, a clutch of highly-talented amateurs whose preparation for each concert is confined to just a few sessions, but whose results are beyond remarkable.
And on this particular occasion in their Silver Jubilee year they were conducted by Michael Seal, a frequent presence on the Sinfonia's podium, hugely experienced, once as a violinist with the CBSO, and now as an internationally sought-after conductor in his own right. He secured an astonishing tightness of ensemble, a wonderful balance of sound in this tricky but rewarding acoustic, and drew finely-shaded degrees of dynamics from this willing and responsive orchestra.
Rachmaninov's vast, arching structure was beautifully shaped, its opening presaging the end nearly an hour later, and there were telling details along the way -- an idiomatic "hold" at phrase-ends, a surging build towards inner climaxes followed by regretful subsidings, and consummately-delivered solos: the famous clarinet outpouring in the slow movement, with its eloquent bassoon counterpoint, noble horn counter-melodies, the sheer passionate delivery of the strings. This has to be my highlight of the year thus far.
Not that the preceding offering was far behind. Commemorating the sesquicentenary of its composer's death, Berlioz' Harold in Italy was given with due deference to its title as "Symphony with viola solo".
Steve Doman was the soloist, his impressively small instrument (I have seen some monster violas) delivering an eloquent, singing tone, and always melding with the composer's demanding orchestral textures. The final moments, the now far-away Doman joined by a handful of orchestral strings, were magical, and in themselves would have justified this first-ever visit to this magical venue.
Christopher Morley

To keep in touch with Sinfonia's next concert go to http://www.sinfonia.org.uk


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