Traditional chamber music societies across the region are having a hard time of it. Not in Sutton Coldfield, though, where the Sutton Coldfield Philharmonic Society is advancing on all fronts. The Society’s 84th season promises recitals by Steven Osborne and Stephen Hough, no less. Judging from the sizeable audience for last night’s performance by the young Estonian pianist Mihkel Poll, they seem likely to attract capacity crowds.
Poll made an immediate impression. Tall and frock-coated with a bob of long black hair, he cut a striking figure – but any suspicion of affectation was erased by his playing. From the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, his command was unmistakeable. No sense of struggle here: Poll displayed a rock-solid technique allied to a clear, bright and warmly expressive tone, every chord firm and lucid, every run poised and jewel-like. It was reminiscent of Stephen Hough, even down to the controlled wit with which Poll tailed off his phrases in the lovelyAndantino.
This was the kind of playing that used to be called “aristocratic”. The Sinfonia of Birmingham, under Richard Laing, responded with some lovingly-phrased solos. They hadn’t fared quite so well in Sibelius’s RakastavaI, Suite or Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony; loud dynamics and over-emphatic rhythms suggested an orchestra that felt unsure of itself in the Town Hall’s deadly carpet-showroom acoustic. It’s hard to blame them; and they certainly didn’t lack for musicianship in the Dvorak’s outer movements, with the horns and flutes doing some really lovely things in thePoco adagio.