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 the Adrian Boult Hall on Friday 20 May.
I come to bury the Adrian Boult Hall, not to praise it. At the not-exactly-ripe age of 30, it’s scheduled to be the next victim of the orgy of demolition currently wrecking the city centre for another generation. And so BCMG returned to the venue of its very first concerts for the very last time, teaming up with the chamber choir Via Nova for a rather subdued wake – though one that wasn’t without a few quiet smiles.
Those came courtesy of Howard Skempton – a sympathetic presence in tonight’s audience, as he is at so many BCMG concerts. Ulrich Heinen performed Skempton’s Six Figures for unaccompanied cello from memory, and Malcolm Wilson brought a wonderfully deadpan sense of timing to three piano miniatures from Skempton’s Nocturnes and Reflections.
They didn’t need anything more: Skempton’s music thrives on understatement, and the unexpected ending of his a capella suite The Flight of Song, performed by Via Nova, drew a ripple of appreciative amusement from the small audience. Charlotte Bray’s dark, volatile Perseus (performed by Wilson and Heinen) and Betsy Jolas’s chant-like Music to Go (Heinen joined by viola player Chris Yates) completed a distinctly wry first half.
It all came into focus after the interval, when Daniel Galbreath conducted Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. Part ritual, part requiem, part haunting sonic sculpture, it was an inspired choice to mark the passing of a space devoted to music, and Via Nova sang with hushed concentration while three BCMG players calmly sketched the boundaries of a vast, resonant universe around them. It was beautifully done, and this was one of those all-too-rare occasions when the ABH’s atmosphere and acoustic actually felt exactly right. Too bad.