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 Symphony Hall on Wednesday 1 June.
What do Berlioz, Purcell, Nicolai, Vaughan Williams and Cole Porter all have in common? On the strength of this Shakespeare 400 concert by the CBSO under Nicholas McGegan, they all wrote Shakespearean music that doesn’t seem to contain much actual Shakespeare. And that’s about it. But they did add up to a very long concert – finishing just shy of 10pm, even after Sullivan’s delightful Merchant of Venice suite had been cut to a paltry three movements.
Still, as Birmingham audiences well know, Nicholas McGegan’s concerts are never routine: he’s so enthusiastic that those two and a half hours positively danced by. McGegan brings such warmth that you have to ask why we don’t hear Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor overture or Sullivan’s suite more often. And of course, both Cole Porter and Purcell were basically in showbiz: singers Sandra Piques Eddy and Duncan Rock waltzed stylishly through a selection from Kiss Me, Kate (the orchestra could have done with keeping down) before McGegan unleashed four soloists and the full CBSO Chorus on a performance of Act IV of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen that will have silenced all but the sourest of early music fundamentalists with its style and splendour.
Earlier, soprano Fflur Wyn had sparkled and charmed her way through Arne’s Shakespeare settings – a rare bit of actual Bard – and held the entire hall rapt as she and Eddy floated the duet from Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict over McGegan’s shimmering accompaniment. But the real discovery was Vaughan Williams’s In Windsor Forest: a playful choral suite, sung by the CBSO Chorus with a radiance and subtlety that made you long to hear them again in the Sea Symphony. It’d be perfect for the Last Night of the Proms.