CentralConcertLive Music/GigMusicReview

Friday Night Classics: British Blockbusters – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Nicholas Dodd

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight 

The Spirit of England season from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) continues with this offering, part of the Friday Night Classics light classics concerts, this time focusing on British Blockbusters that is, music associated and used in film. During the evening we are treated to stirring martial music, jaunty dances and expansive, thoughtful pieces, and, in typical British style, nuggets of humour, both within the music and the links and knowledgeable anecdotes from presenter Mark Kermode. Kermode is skilled in engaging the audience and provides several moments of light relief during the evening.

The first half has a distinctly martial feel to it with rousing marches and music from war films. Eric Coates’ The Dam Busters March is immediately stimulating and introduces us to conductor Nicholas Dodd’s expansive and authoritative style. Dodd’s whole body is constantly on the move, animatedly signalling crescendos and scoops and as he unleashes the might of the CBSO. This theme continues with William Walton’s Spitfire Prelude in which one can almost hear the Merlin engines’ roar, Sir Malcolm Arnold’s march from Bridge on the River Kwai that is filled with humour, and the airborne hurry and scurry depicted in Battle in the Air from Walton’s Battle of Britain Suite. All of these exciting pieces send shivers down the spine. But the evening isn’t totally jingoistic, it is leavened with more thoughtful and pastoral pieces: John Barry’s theme from Out of Africa is enhanced further by warm lighting and evokes a feeling of space, George Fenton’s theme from Shadowlands is doleful and the waltz from Murder on the Orient Express by Richard Rodney Bennett is jaunty. And the atmospheric Carrie’s Bedroom by Richard Rodney Bennett from Four Weddings and a Funeral includes a beautiful and doleful flute opening from Veronika Klírová.

The first half wraps up with the English-as Pork-Pie The Wrong Trousers Theme from Julian Nott, the familiar sprightly brass lines of which raise the spirits of the audience.

The second half is rather more pastoral in tone, although it opens with the upbeat theme from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines from Ron Goodwin. Highlights are undoubtedly Mausam and Escape from the Slumdog Millionaire Suite by A R Rahman featuring extensive, intricate and skilful sitar playing from visiting instrumentalist, Roopa Panesar, whose fingers fairly fly over the instrument as note after curled note cascades down; and a haunting violin solo from Jonathan Martindale, part of Nigel Hess’ main theme from Ladies in Lavendar. The more thoughtful theme continues with music from Love Actually, Atonement and The English Patient before a major change of mood as the main part closes with music from Barry’s James Bond Suite. This is a fine up-tempo end to the evening leaving all with smiles on their faces, smiles that are firmly fixed during an encore that features the theme from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

As usual, the playing of the CBSO is pretty much flawless, filling the magnificent Symphony Hall with mellifluous sound. Another triumph.

Reviewed on 28 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

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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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