Review: Baroque to Broadway

Simon Hale enjoys a gloriously eclectic night of the CBSO at Symphony Hall.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra took the audience on a fascinating journey through the musical styles of the eighteenth to the twentieth century in its latest concert at Symphony Hall.

Conducted by Michael Seal and a collaboration with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese and Irish trumpeter Niall O’Sullivan (pictured), the concert featured songs and instrumental favourites that were presumably aimed as much at fans of films and musicals as classical music lovers in what was a sadly small audience.

The two soloists got the evening off to a bright start with the earliest works by George Handel, Let the Bright Seraphim from his oratorio Sampson and Lascia Ch’io Pianga from his opera Rinaldo, performed with typical baroque exuberance, tempered by the rhythm of the orchestra.

The CBSO moved into the classical period with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Parto, Parto aria from his final opera La Clemenza di Tito, in which de Niese brought a characterful charisma. Oliver Janes stepped forward from the orchestra and performed the clarinet role with aplomb.

Maintaining the musical chronology, bel canto opera was represented by the overture and Act 2 prelude to Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and the overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, with the CBSO continuing in fine form.

Rossini’s Una Voce poco Fa, an aria from The Barber of Seville requiring great vocal agility, was programmed but not performed. That was probably because, as she told the audience later, de Niese had woken with a cold that day but was determined to sing in Birmingham for the first time since the pandemic. Nevertheless, she took the audience through to the romantic period in musical styles with great verve and a soaring expressiveness with the Habanera from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen.

A lighting change and the addition of jazz instrumentation on the stage heralded the twentieth century after the interval as Nino Rota’s Love Theme from the 1972 film The Godfather and Astor Piazzolla’s catchy tango composition Libertango fully demonstrated O’Sullivan’s sizzling trumpet artistry.

De Niese eschewed Edith Piaf’s famous rolled r’s in La Vie en Rose but hit all the emotional chords with You’ll Never Walk Alone – the anthem of Liverpool Football Club – from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel, the first of five pieces from Broadway shows.

Fans of The Simpsons and Grey’s Anatomy would have immediately recognised My Funny Valentine from Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s My Funny Valentine, which also brought the soloists back on stage.

It seemed that George Gershwin’s song Summertime from the opera Porgy and Bess might be another omission when O’Sullivan announced that the next piece would be Smoke Gets in your Eyes from Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s Roberta. All was well after de Niese corrected him.

Kern and Hammerstein’s Can’t Help Loving That Man, from Showboat, rounded off the excellent musical renditions before a blistering showpiece finale of Agustin Lara’s song Granada. As an encore it was left to O’Sullivan to provide a reminder of St Patrick’s Day only a week earlier with a passionate Danny Boy.

The CBSO will perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Stewart Goodyear as soloist, along with works by Charles Ives, Frank Zappa and George Lewis at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, March 27th at Symphony Hal. For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at

Pics – Chris Dunlop (front), Lucy Nuzum (this page).