REVIEW: Bell takes the baton at Brighton Philharmonic

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On the last day of 2010 Stephen Bell took a well earned break after three years conducting Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s popular New Year’s Eve concert but relished the opportunity to show there is a little more to his game.

And the Dome faithful did not have long to wait as he took the baton for a programme of Tchaikovsky and Delius.

Bell has always been the most convivial of hosts but as enjoyable as the music of Vienna and the Strauss dynasty most certainly is, one can understand his desire to take on something a little more challenging.

Not that that is particularly new to Bell, however, even if Dome audiences have been used to only the occasional guest appearance on the rostrum.

On Sunday he kept the splendid BPO tightly on their game and if on piece rate could have commanded a huge fee for the effort expended in guiding them through Tchaikovsky’s excellent Symphony No 5 that took up the entire second half.

It was also a slightly longer programme than normal, with the Russian master’s Fantasy-Overture The Tempest launching proceedings, followed by a Delius double of a Walk to the Paradise Garden and the Concerto for violin and cello.

The first half was essentially evocative mood music, with The Tempest aptly named and guest soloists Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) and Gemma Rosefield (cello) combining to good effect for the second Delius offering.

But it was the No 5 that provided the heart of the concert and Bell was assiduous and magnificent in a performance that was fully appreciated by an enthusiastic audience clearly intent on making light of a few empty seats.

BPO music director Barry Wordsworth returns for the next concert this Sunday (January 30) when he is joined by baritone Njabulo Madlala and the Brighton Festival Chorus for a programme of Walton’s Coronation March (Crown Imperial) and Belshazzar’s Feast, and Vaughan-Williams’ Five Mystical Songs.