The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Conservatoire on 4 December 2015.
Two questions arose from this Shakespeare-themed festive concert by Birmingham Conservatoire’s brass department. Firstly: with the Shakespeare 400th Anniversary nearly upon us, is it possible to hear too much of Walton’s music for Henry V? And secondly: seriously, Christmas? Already?
Well, with Victoria Square already full of seasonal sausage-vendors it’s too late to cry humbug. As Christmas concerts go, this was an imaginative programme, with Ian Porthouse and Andrew Stone-Fewings sharing conducting duties between the Conservatoire’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble and Brass Band. Alwyn Green’s new arrangement of Raymond Leppard’s brisk, playful setting of When Daisies Pied stood out for invention; soprano Cecily Redman delivered her “cuckoos” with an impressively straight face.
Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets was a stretch too far for the Symphonic Brass’s trumpets, but Edward Watson’s setting of The Decorations, a bit of whimsy by Alan Titchmarsh proved a surprisingly effective showcase for the colours and quickfire responses of the Brass Band. Actors Katy Stephens and Jo Stone-Fewings got into the spirit with gusto. Edward Watson’s Richard III-inspired Middleham Fayre, and Meditation: The Stable were both premieres: enjoyable contributions to the great British brass tradition.
Which brings us back to the first question, and a new “Shakespeare Scenario” devised by Watson from Walton’s Henry V – longer than the composer’s own unsatisfactory orchestral suite, and scored for narrator (Jo Stone-Fewings) plus combined Symphonic Brass and Brass Band. Setting aside a misguided sequence of electronic sound effects, it worked brilliantly: with gloriously woozy trombones in the Boar’s Head Interlude and eerie pianissimo rustles from muted cornets in the aftermath of Agincourt. If every performance of this music over the next twelve months is as colourful and imaginative as this, we should be able to cope.