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Orchestras serve up a rich mix; BBC Symphony Orchestra/British Police Symphony Orchestra Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

Link-spotters were in their element at Symphony Hall over the weekend, when two markedly different symphony orchestras served up programmes rich in cross-references.

We heard three works with strong London connections, two overtures by Elgar and two 20th-century concertos both firmly lodged in the late Romantic tradition.

Sir Andrew Davis opened Saturday's concert from his BBC Symphony Orchestra with a finely-detailed, exciting account of Elgar's Cockaigne Overture. As befits its dedication, it furnished plenty of opportunity, readily taken, for orchestral display, but we missed the undercurrent of pathos which looks forward to another Elgar London piece of a decade later, Falstaff.

Premiered by London's Philharmonic Society in 1885, Dvorak's Seventh Symphony blends strong nationalistic melodies and dance-rhythms with glowingly Wagnerian harmonic structures. The result is a masterpiece, and Davis' reading relished all its dramatic potential while never overstating the case. It was refreshing to hear each movement following on almost without a break, helping along the urgency of this strongly-propelled interpretation.

Bravely concealing a bad dose of influenza, Priya Mitchell was the persuasive soloist in the Walton Violin Concerto. Gorgeously heart-on-sleeve, haunting in its melancholy lyrical impulse, it reminds itself that it is in fact a product of the 20th century with a liberal dash of sardonic bitters, and Mitchell's performance unfolded a wonderful mix of delicacy, wit and tenderness.

Solo woodwind contributions from the BBCSO were masterly.

From that decades-established orchestra to one just in its tenth season: the British Police Symphony Orchestra, which brought an equally searching programme yesterday afternoon on its latest visit to Birmingham. This is a remarkable body of dedicated amateurs, with only a lack of power in the lower strings, an occasional lapse of intonation and the odd suspicion of miscounting to reveal the lack of full-time application.

Musicianly and well-disciplined, these players perform to a standard with which many of our professional symphony orchestras would have been happy not so many years ago.

On the podium was BPSO musical director Duncan Hinnells, his conducting finely-judged and assured. He began with a broad, muscular In the South Overture, with a healthy brass presence in Elgar's powerful score; we also relished a mellow viola solo at its heart.

After a disappointingly lolloping opening (grace-notes given too much value), Gavin Richards went on to give a conscientious, scrupulous reading of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, with many passages of genuine poetry to illuminate its progress. Hinnell's BPSO responded to the marvellous orchestration with more freshness than some. One correction to the programme-note, however: this concerto was used in the film Brief Encounter, but not in Somewhere in Time; that was the Paganini Rhapsody.

Vaughan Williams's London Symphony inspired a deeply moving account from this brave, noteworthy orchestra.

Christopher Morley
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 3, 2000
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