S&H Concert review

Symphony Hall Tenth Anniversary Concert
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Britten Sinfonia da Requiem Op. 20 Stravinsky Suite, The Firebird (1945)  Janácek Sinfonietta (CT)

It is hard to believe that ten years have passed by since the doors of Symphony Hall were first opened. The concert hall that was initially promised to Adrian Boult during his tenure with the orchestra in the 1920s was eventually opened on the 15th April 1991 following two concerts by the CBSO and Simon Rattle when the programme included, as in this birthday celebration concert, Stravinsky's Firebird. Little could Sir Adrian have imagined the technological innovations that were to be used in creating one of the finest concert halls in the world. And still the work goes on. This summer will eventually see the installation of the Symphony Hall organ and, one hopes, an end to the rather inadequate sound of the temporary substitute!

The opening of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem set a standard for much of the concert, the profound Lacrymosa being imbued with a wonderful sense of atmosphere and the opening cello melody showing a fine, subtle sense of colour and shade which permeated the whole movement. The contrast which was achieved between the deeply felt mourning of the Lacrymosa and the nervous energy and sheer savage aggression of the following Dies Irae made a dramatic impression with some magnificent brass sounds and a real sense that the orchestra were responding to every gesture from the podium. The limpid opening of the final Requiem Aeternam was beautifully handled, the lullaby- like tenderness of the movement again in complete contrast and leaving a lingering impression of a powerful performance of this masterful score.

The 1945 suite from The Firebird received an equally magical performance, the Introduction immediately setting the scene with some ravishing sounds from the strings and a truly spine tingling sense of atmosphere. Admittedly the orchestra has the benefit of the superb Symphony Hall acoustics on their side but the transparency and balance in much of the playing seemed particularly impressive on this occasion. That wonderful moment at the beginning of the Final Hymn as the horn entry floats over the strings was played as beautifully as I can ever remember hearing it, whilst the concluding bars possessed a sense of majesty which Oramo and the orchestra clearly revelled in.

The wondrous acoustics of the hall were once again shown off to maximum effect in the stirring performance of the Janácek Sinfonietta, which took up the second half of the concert. A fine collection of brass players had been put together, evident immediately in the seamless trumpet sounds from the players arched and standing behind the orchestra. What a shame we do not hear more of the bass trumpet in the concert hall, the sound here was magnificent! The spirited Andante (subtitled The Castle), again showed great clarity in the playing whilst the Moderato (The Queen's Monastery) captured the more reflective character of the opening beautifully with some sonorous playing from the tuba. The final Allegro (The Town Hall) built to a conclusion of life affirming joy, proof indeed that the seventy two year old Janácek must have been enjoying the finest years of his life as he entered the final years of his career.

The respect that the orchestra has developed for Oramo was evident throughout this excellent concert and it would be difficult to imagine a more fitting birthday tribute to Symphony Hall, both in the programme or the performance.

Christopher Thomas

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