Cbso / Elder | Symphony Hall Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

Do rush now - for there's some millennial good news filtering out of the CBSO and its palatial silver-and-red venue. Britain's premier provincial orchestra is offering tickets for all CBSO-promoted concerts at Symphony Hall for the rest of the season at half-price.

Do rush now - for there's some millennial good news filtering out of the CBSO and its palatial silver-and-red venue. Britain's premier provincial orchestra is offering tickets for all CBSO-promoted concerts at Symphony Hall for the rest of the season at half-price.

Some more good news from England's second city is that English music is back in favour. Strange, perhaps, that it was ever out - for Birmingham in the past two centuries was a paradise of English tunefulness. Maybe Mendelssohn and Dvorak wowed Midland audiences most, but Birmingham performed Stainer, Parry and Stanford, and gave the (fam-ously disastrous) premiere of Gerontius; composers from Moeran to Maw have benefited ever since.

Well, almost ever - for Maw's superb, labyrinthine Odyssey was one of Rattle's comparatively few English sorties. Apart from a dazzling Proms premiere of Maxwell Davies's First Symphony, the odd Sinfonietta concert, bursts of Britten and Birtwistle, Turnage, Weir, Benjamin and Adÿs, Sir Simon remained coy about the English Romantics.

It has taken a Finn, Sakari Oramo - newly elevated this season to be the CBSO's music director - and another Englishman prepared to take risks, Mark Elder, to prove how magnificently the CBSO players tackle this repertoire. Frank Bridge's The Sea and Arnold Bax's Tintagel have already whetted the appetite. But as Elder confirmed in his audience-friendly introduction at the weekend, Bax's Symphony Spring Fire is a high point of English Impressionism.

From the dripping woodwind evoking primeval forests in the opening movement to the demonic, maenad-ridden finale, this was a stunning work, stunningly performed. The years 1905-1913 were a mould-breaking time of artistic ferment throughout Europe, but we ignore the English angle at our peril.

This daring revival (one of two precious scores of Bax's Spring Fire was conflagrated, literally, in a later fire at Curwen's London offices) proved what superb advocates of the British tradition England's provincial orchestras can be. The young Philadelphia-trained violinist Leila Josefowicz was a hit with the audience, though it was in her gutsy approach to the outer movements, more than the slightly limpidly sustained central Adagio, of Bruch's G minor Violin Concerto that she most impressed.

Mark Elder revealed his astonishing versatility, partnered by the inimitable Prunella Scales, at the CBSO Centre two days later, in a tour-de-force narration of Walton's divertissement, Façade.

No Alvar Lidell or Edith Sitwell here. Accents, from Exe to Ouse, Blimey-O'Reilly to Noël Coward, Midwest to broad Glaswegian, gushed effortlessly from the pair, like dredged-up student footlight memories, Don Pasquito and Mrs Behemoth, Tango and Tarantella bubbled forth like the Trevi Fountain. Not, perhaps, quite properly proper - but perceptive, sympathetic and endlessly side-splitting.

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