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Friday Night Classics: Classic fm Hall of Fame – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Michael Seal 

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

In an evening in the company of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), one is pretty much guaranteed superb musicianship from all, with the acoustics of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall ensuring that every element is audible. So what is it that takes a good concert and makes it great? One feature might be the programme chosen – the series of Friday Night Classics concerts features light classics on a theme, maybe film music or looking back at disco, on which someone has to construct a programme with variety and plenty of shades of light and dark. For this concert, that someone is helped enormously by the listeners to Classic fm who, at Easter each year, vote for their favourite classical pieces in the world’s biggest survey of classical music to produce the Classic fm Hall of Fame comprising 300 pieces. Of course, there’s still some winnowing required to fit the concert’s time slot, but at least one knows one is getting a selection from the most popular (this evening’s all come from the top 150) and so there’s a good chance there’ll be something on the programme you will enjoy.

The programme is nothing without the players who come together and play in perfect harmony, together with, on this occasion, the CBSO Chorus, under the baton of Michael Seal. A perennial favourite is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending (placed third on this year’s list) with its evocation of a lost Britain through the intricate and soaring violin played beautifully by Jonathan Martindale. Also in the repertoire is Symphony No 3 (Organ): Maestoso – Allegro from Saint-Saëns in which the mighty Symphony Hall organ, played by Julian Wilkins, and the whole CBSO create a dramatic wall of sound as they seem to compete one with another.

The moods vary from the dramatic opening of Orff’s Carmina Burana: O Fortuna to the beauty of the last notes Mozart wrote, Requiem: Lacrimosa, both with the CBSO Chorus in fine voice filling the hall with harmony. Indeed, the whole is filled with familiar themes, featuring the journey from spring to mature meandering river that is Smetana’s Má Vlast: Vltava, to elements from Holst’s The Planets with our emotions being manipulated by, for example, the sombre and moving Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

And our captain for the evening is the ebullient Michael Seal. His conducting style varies from the energetic to the pensive, from expansive to confined, sometimes coaxing the notes forward, at others commanding their presence.

The final piece of the jigsaw this evening is our presenter, Classic fm morning show presenter and newsreader, John Suchet. His passion for the music is unmistakable, his pleasure at being present to enjoy the performance, palpable. This enthusiasm comes through as he introduces each piece and is then wrapped up in it, leaning forward in anticipation of favourite moments. His presence adds another ingredient to the already impressive recipe.

Overall, a peerless evening of music, allowing the audience, for a couple of hours, to escape the outside world to a world of beauty, courtesy of the listeners of Classic fm and the CBSO, Classic fm’s Orchestra in the Midlands.

Reviewed on 16 November 2018  | 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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