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 Sutton Coldfield Town Hall on Sunday 17 January.
I voted for Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo, by the way. Someone had to.
Light music is a vanishing art. Any student conductor these days can thrash out a passable Mahler symphony: but finding the sort of dapper, carefree sparkle that Thomas Beecham used to bring to Suppé overtures, or pieces like Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, is a lot harder.
Both Suppé (an enjoyably brisk Light Cavalry overture) and Ponchielli featured in this enjoyable programme by the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Lloyd; plus Sullivan’s Overture Di Ballo and Eric Coates’s London Suite. It’s the sort of music that’s usually carelessly described as “popular”: but can you remember when, say, the CBSO last played the ballet music from Gounod’s Faust? Me neither.
In any case, you got the distinct impression that the BPO – 75 years old in 2016 – saw this concert as a sort of early birthday present to itself. Audience and orchestra members took turns to vote on certain items in the programme: the audience opted by a landslide for Nimrod, while the orchestra went, slightly unimaginatively, for the finale of Dvorak’s Ninth. Still, they clearly know their strengths: this and the other conventionally “serious” piece – Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, stylishly shaded, with gutsy fiddle solos from leader Cristinel Băcanu – were the two items in which the BPO seemed most at ease.
Elsewhere: well, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall’s carpet-showroom acoustic is merciless to violins. It might perhaps have been safer to have opened with the Suppé rather than the Sullivan. But the Ponchielli fizzed nicely, and elegant cello and sax solos added a touch of West End glamour to the London Suite. Lloyd’s Knightsbridge March zipped along like a military two-step, helped by some deliciously alert and musicianly percussion playing. But folks, please: leave the bottled water offstage.