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CEE Concert 24.02.08 reviewed in the Birmingham Post 26.02.08

 

REWARDS COME FROM AMBITION
Central England Ensemble, Adrian Boult Hall*** (three stars)

Hate to say "I told you so", but as I predicted at its October 2001 launch, the Central England Ensemble has proved its staying-power on the Midlands musical scene, and has indeed grown both in aspirations and numbers.

Sunday's well-attended concert (nicely entitled "Awakenings: First Love") was a huge undertaking, and the outcome of its ambitious programme was generally gratifying.

Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture began tentatively, but a rich, well-toned harp as passion increased matched the increase in confidence of these young players. The busy fugato passages were particularly well-delivered under music director Anthony Bradbury.

Part of CEE's mission-statement is to perform the works of local contemporary composers, and here we heard Resurrectio Magus by the young Ben Gernon. Attractive sounds of winter magic introduce an oboe-led dance with Prokofiev-like accompanying textures (though Gernon's flatulent trombones have no place here) which is highly enchanting.

Then came something over-ambitious, the Love Duet from Madame Butterfly. Jonathan Finney's baritonal tenor and stilted delivery made for no convincing Pinkerton, but Sarah Estill's body-language did its best to convey the shy young Butterfly -- countermanded by a fruity vibrato which destroyed the illusion.

Under Bradbury's fluent conducting the CEE gave a flexible, attentive and sensitively-nuanced account of this, Puccini's most Wagnerian score.

And Wagner provided the rest of the programme. After a well-nourished Tannhauser Overture, five sturdy trombones, and strings coping well with the tedious "knitting" of Wagner's textures, Finney and Estill returned to give a far more effective performance of another great love-duet, that of Siegfried and Brunnhilde at the beginning of Gotterdammerung.

The orchestra played out of its socks for Bradbury, and the principal horn was stunning in Siegfried's Rhine Journey.

Christopher Morley

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