CBSO 2021/22: Rodgers & Hammerstein – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Conductor: Martin Yates

It must have been divine inspiration to call this concert Some Enchanted Evening because that is exactly what conductor Martin Yates and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) deliver. The opening piece, Carousel Waltz, is a microcosm of the whole; under Yates’ economical yet fluid and authoritative direction, the orchestra changes mood and pace effortlessly, moving from the unsettling opening to the positively mellifluous swinging main them. Over and over, Yates coaxes climaxes that are somehow subtle and unexpected while in retrospect being entirely inevitable. And we immediately warm to quietly spoken Yates as he takes the role of MC and guide, offering titbits of information about the towering duo who are responsible for the sublime music this evening and whom we are here to celebrate, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein III.

When Rogers and Hammerstein started collaborating, they were both already successful in their own fields with other partners, but together they were to change the landscape of musical theatre, at first with Oklahoma! in which the established rules were broken and the songs and music became much more part of the storytelling rather than punctuation. This continued – some might say hit its peak – with Carousel. We hear selections from both of these and, after the interval, from their later works, including the well-known South Pacific, The King and I and, of course, The Sound of Music as well as an offering from the less familiar The Flower Drum Song.

Of course, any concert that celebrates musical theatre requires singers to deliver the songs and this concert is no exception with top-notch performances from Gina Beck, Scott Davies, Alice Fearn and Rob Houchen.

After a rousing rendition of Oklahoma, Davies sets the scene with Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’. In this and the rest of the concert, his classical voice is expressive and powerful, although in the lower registers the sound balance is such that it isn’t quite as audible – an issue quickly fixed. Similarly, he brings intelligence to his rendition of Some Enchanted Evening and quiet sincerity to Edelweiss.

Beck fills the auditorium with The Sound of Music, but mainly duets with Houchen this evening. This pairing results in a memorable and moving If I Loved You, a song full of emotion and well-acted too as the two young people struggle to come to terms with their feelings and nervously communicate them. In general, Houchen’s voice is lighter than Davies’ suiting his solo outings including Younger than Springtime and Sixteen Going on Seventeen.

Fearn has a pure voice of crystal that hits the high notes with precision. She also is well-versed in humour, as demonstrated in I Cain’t Say No, while her Getting to Know You is perky. All provide some gorgeous harmonies together, for example, in the poignant You’ll Never Walk Alone.

This is a concert one really doesn’t want to end, but all too soon it does, leaving us with memories of a triumphant evening with the CBSO and Yates.

Reviewed on 10 June 2022

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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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