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 Monday 23 May.
If it’s true that you can always tell when non-professional orchestras haven’t rehearsed the concerto properly, boy, can you hear it when they have. When Savitri Grier played the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Sinfonia of Birmingham under Michael Seal, it was her playing, of course, that took the spotlight – a deep, eloquent tone, making every line sing, and all delivered with remarkable poise and flair. But you also noticed how Seal and his orchestra were behind her, and inside the music, every bar of the way.
That began with the very opening: in those brief seconds of icy rustlings Seal created both a sense of space, and an atmosphere (never the easiest thing to achieve in Sutton Coldfield Town Hall). Orchestral tuttis surged up like lava, woodwinds danced and swirled, and the whole thing felt like one huge, unified, sweep of music: the symphony Sibelius never wrote.
Earlier, Seal and the Sinfonia had given us a foretaste of what to expect in Berlioz’s King Lear overture. The brass snarled and snapped, cellos and basses thundered out their recitatives with a suitably black voice, and – in the introduction – the whole band achieved a magical transparency as Berlioz layers hushed violins over throbbing woodwinds and a sombre brass chorale.
And they followed up with a Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony that exceeded even the already high voltage of the Sibelius. If the strings were starting to buckle slightly under the strain, the woodwinds (and the bassoons in particular) were gloriously on song. It was heartening to see what looked like a larger than usual audience for this Sutton Philharmonic Society concert, too. With standards as consistently high as this, no self-respecting music lover in North Birmingham should still be staying away from these Monday evening concerts.