City Of London Sinfonia / Hickox, Dome, Brighton

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Someone should perform Carmen in the Brighton Dome. The building's new acoustic could work wonders with the languor-ous asides and the final showdown between the ex-soldier and the feisty cigarette girl.

Someone should perform Carmen in the Brighton Dome. The building's new acoustic could work wonders with the languor-ous asides and the final showdown between the ex-soldier and the feisty cigarette girl.

Carmen is also the name of the French sound system, created by the Centre Scientifique et Technique du Batîment, acoustic doyens of Paris's Cité de la Musique, that has transformed Brighton's concert-hall experience from muddy to bright and insistent. George IV's Regency dome was an adjunct to Brighton Pavilion, his more famous onion-domed confection. Under Queen Victoria, the Dome became a concert hall; in the 1930s, it acquired an art deco interior; and a triumph of the latest renovation has been the restoration of those interiors to a pristine state. It is airy, comfy, gutsy; the new now nestles amid the old with ease.

So, how would this, England's first such sound system, freshly tweaked and bedded down, come across when relaying the broad-brush sounds of Grieg and Mendelssohn? Well, a mixed bag. Depending on where you sit, it has its glories: upstairs, forceful tutti and upper registers hit you square between the eyes; downstairs, strings can come across as oddly muted; the overall sound is mellow and never strident, never mono-chrome but sometimes monaural. The rear-placed brass and woodwind - terrific - seem to bounce off the sides and succeed at coming to you both directly and laterally. The choir, though geographically enclosed, has a fine lateral spread and depth that slightly favours the sopranos at the front. As to balance - well, the jury is out.

Dmitri Alexeyev was the soloist in a very respectable performance of Grieg's Piano Concerto, a work that openly betrays its composer's youth (he was around 25) and his natural flair for the instrument, which had been fired up by a German-trained pianist mother and his Leipzig training. The mono-ish string sound felt at times almost like a historic film score, and while Alexeyev brought a fine lyrical feel to the central movement, the keyboard's upper range spoke loud and clear, but the lower register was more of a wash. The most memorable touches came from elsewhere: the City of London Sinfonia's brass and woodwind ushering in the cadenza, and a terrific first horn. Flute solos, a low cello solo counterpointing the soloist, and a super semi-staccato in the trombones stood out.

Mendelssohn's Lobgesang (or Hymn of Praise, Symphony No 2) was first heard in 1840, on the second of his triumphant visits to Birmingham. Its fourth movement is a good holler, immensely gratifying for a chorus. To be honest, the preceding three instrumental movements have the cream of the musical argument. But the CLS strings, uneven in the Grieg, led off strongly; the famous soprano duet duly charmed; the chorus a cappella "Nun Danket" was excellent; and the exchanges with the watchman full of drama.

Best of all were an extra-ordinary solo for clarinet and the young American tenor Steve Davislim, who alone was worth the journey.

Comments