Baroque to Broadway – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Conductor: Michael Seal

The latest in the series of lighter classical concerts from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) sees it collaborating with trumpeter Niall O’Sullivan and soprano Danielle de Niese to bring us Baroque to Broadway. The title doesn’t make it entirely obvious who the intended audience is, a confusion that might be behind the fact that the turnout feels smaller than is typical for these concerts; however, de Niese’s career to date has successfully spanned both worlds presented, earning her plaudits in both, while O’Sullivan’s career similarly crosses genres making them ideal candidates to perform tonight.

Before the interval, we have a broadly chronological view of the development of classical music, from Handel in the 18th Century to Bizet in the 19th, via pieces from Mozart and Rossini. Most of the pieces enable the soloists to showcase their skills: O’Sullivan teases emotion from the horn of his various trumpets, while de Niese brings a sense of joy with her soaring voice. We also see what is in effect a potted history of the orchestra and orchestrations: the earlier pieces rely heavily on strings, with other parts of the orchestra being highlighted as the concert progresses.

The second half consists of music from the 20th Century; one might expect that to be heavily laden with show tunes from Broadway’s biggest hits; however, the selection is more eclectic than that. It opens with the Love Theme from The Godfather and moves on to include songs from shows – although the Great American Songbook might describe them equally well: You’ll Never Walk Alone, My Funny Valentine, Summertime, for example. Almost every piece throughout the evening includes O’Sullivan’s trumpet floating above the orchestra and de Niese’s vocals, such that one might imagine that the evening has been curated more as a showcase for their considerable talents rather than as a trip through musical history.

What is not in doubt is the array of talent on stage: the music from the CBSO seems to somehow magically emerge under the baton of conductor, Michael Seal, the ensemble in complete harmony in all senses of the word. And de Niese successfully navigates all of the musical genres tonight with ease, her powerful voice full of emotion in the first half transforms to an earthier jazzy vibe in the second with both being equally sublime: La Vie en Rose and You’ll Never Walk Alone are especially fine examples showing off her skills in phrasing and performance.

So the concert is something of a curate’s egg; the choice of music presented isn’t the most obvious or expected – not necessarily a bad thing, per se, of course – but the performances of that music are quite transcendent, with each note and word interpreted with skill. One gets the feeling that the soloists are completely at ease with the programme and truly enjoying their performances, which goes a long way to assuring the quality of the evening.

Reviewed on 22 March 2024

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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