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A masterclass in performing Mozart

A concert by Stephen Hough, Mark Elder
and the Hallé Orchestra
delighted MIKE WHEELER


I tend to associate pianist Stephen Hough with the heavyweight romantic repertoire: Liszt, Rachmaninov and so on. But as his performance with the Hallé Orchestra showed (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 13 September 2006), he is also a deft and sensitive Mozartian. Piano Concerto No 21 is one of Mozart's most intimate, and it got a reading of winning poise and warmth. The unusual platform layout -- woodwind all together at the front right of the stage -- paid off handsomely in terms of transparent textures and a chamber-music-like responsiveness between orchestra and soloist. Their flowing tempo for the second movement was pretty well ideal, giving it plenty of expressive warmth while not over-romanticising it. The outer movements were lively and full of delightful improvisatory moments. A masterclass in performing Mozart.

Stephen Hough. Photo © Eric Richmond
Stephen Hough. Photo © Eric Richmond

That same combination of warmth and rhythmic alertness also informed the main work after the interval, Act 2 of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. This may have been a concert performance but dancers would have had no difficulty responding to the Hallé's playing, shaped by conductor Mark Elder with passion and a lively sense of the dramatic. Leader Lyn Fletcher's solo playing in the Pas de Deux was elegant and not over-sweet.

The performance of Berlioz's overture Le Corsaire that opened the concert found a vein of romantic yearning in the slow music which came close to the world of the Symphonie Fantastique, while the fast section crackled with whiplash energy.

Part 2 began with an unbilled extra, a enjoyably brash, exuberant -- but also, at times, surprisingly delicate -- account of Stravinsky's Circus Polka; the Schubert quotation at the end was genuinely funny.

Mark Elder's relaxed, informal spoken contributions did much to set the tone for this delightful start to the Assembly Rooms concert season.

Copyright © 23 September 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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