Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Symphony Hall was officially opened by the Queen 21 years ago this week. The anniversary hasn't been allowed to pass unnoticed, and the centrepiece of Birmingham's celebrations was this concert by the orchestra for whom the hall was built, the City of Birmingham Symphony.
Conducting duties were shared: the CBSO's current music director, Andris Nelsons, naturally took charge of the bulk of the programme, but passed the baton to the director of the CBSO Chorus, Simon Halsey, for the main work in the first half, Elgar's The Music Makers, in which mezzo Christine Rice was the velvety-toned soloist. Elgar's most self-referential work may not be to all tastes but, first performed a century ago just down the road at Birmingham Town Hall, it was a nice choice for this occasion, which Rice, Halsey and his superbly honed chorus certainly made the most of.
Nelsons top and tailed the evening with orchestral showpieces, beginning with a blisteringly fast run through the overture to Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila, in which not a note was out of place. He ended with a wonderfully poised account of Ravel's second Daphnis et Chloé Suite, exactly capturing its mixture of hazy sensuousness and brutal brilliance.
Nelsons also marshalled support for the concert's star turn – Bryn Terfel at his most relaxed. The bass-baritone started with the Toreador's song from Bizet's Carmen and finished with the Te Deum from the end of the first act of Puccini's Tosca, also including Dr Dulcamara's Udite, Udite from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore and a group of slightly cheesy folksong arrangements. He worked the audience as if they were on the end of a piece of string; his comic touches and charm almost disguised just how exceptionally polished all his singing was.
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