CentralConcertLive Music/GigMusicReviewShakespeare

CBSO: Henry V – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Edward Gardner

Reviewer: Sam Chipman

This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare: the world renowned bard of Stratford-upon-Avon. Even centuries after his death his plays are performed, readand studied ceaselessly around the globe – a testament to his genius.

Music features prominently in Shakespeare’s playsand this concert features work that has been inspired by the bard and the worlds, and characters he created – The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s (CBSO) programme of concerts is part of a wider Our Shakespeare celebration in partnership with leading arts organisations in the region.

Under the explosive and agile direction of conductor, Edward Gardner, the CBSO set about bringing Richard Strauss’ musical take on Macbeth to life. The woodwind section gives us a sensitive performance of the eerie theme of Lady Macbeth, and the brass brings a real regal feel to the piece. The string section is both sensuous and powerful, and play immaculately ensemble, with never a stray note.

The CBSO Chorus is a real treat, with a delicately performed set of Shakespeare songs put to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams. The harmonics they produce are beautiful, and this section of the concert is over f.ar too quickly

The first half concludes with the ballet music from Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, which has all the drama typical of a Verdi score. The string section nimbly switches from sweeping phrases to more frantic passages, the brass helping with the ever changing dynamic of the performance. The piece is macabre but played in a lively fashion with flair and flamboyance added by Gardner.

Walton’s score was written for the 1944 Henry V film, starring Laurence Olivier – at one of the darkest periods in Britain’s history the film was a propaganda effort commissioned by the government to buoy the national spirit during the onslaught of World War II. From the court in Englandto Falstaff’s death and the send-off of the troops to the battlefields of France, Walton’s score tells the story vividly, making no attempt to hide in the background, and complements the famous words of Shakespeare. The brass and percussion come into their own during this section of the concert, adding the much needed triumphant feel that rings around the magnificent Symphony Hall, a jubilant performance from all involved. Falstaff’s death features an exquisitely played lower string melody which much resembles a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and a rustic bassoon melody adds a real English courtly feel. Seasoned Shakespearian actor, Samuel West masterfully weaves his way through Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, a performance of real stature and variation. He is compelling throughout, and his St Crispin’s Day speech is a stand out moment, truly rousing. The CBSO make an enormously full sound, leading to a powerful and climactic end befitting of the evening and Shakespeare’s magic.

“In sweet music is such art…” Shakespeare’s work lends itself incredibly well to the musical world, and the imaginations of those that inspired such musical feats – when the words and the music come together a higher emotional plane is reached.

Reviewed on 7 January 2016 | Image: Contributed

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