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Fiery Performance

The Hallé Orchestra plays Elgar and Wagner,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Elgar admired and was influenced by Wagner, so pairing the two composers [Hallé Orchestra, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 24 January 2007] was a logical piece of programming.

The Hallé Orchestra and conductor Mark Elder began with a fiery performance of the Flying Dutchman Overture, moving on to an account of the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde in which the ebb and flow of the music's tension was superbly controlled. For the Liebestod they were joined by soprano Anja Kampe. Making only her second appearance in the UK, she comes with an impressive CV of appearances at La Scala, Bayreuth, La Monnaie, Brussels and Glyndebourne (Leonore in last summer's Fidelio). Her contribution was thrilling, projecting Isolde's plangent ecstasy with utter conviction.

The Hallé's long-established pedigree of Elgar performances includes the première of the First Symphony in 1908. This got a gripping performance which dug deep into both the music's turbulence and passion and its passages of radiant serenity -- the close of the third movement was breathtaking. The players rose impressively to the moments of collective virtuosity; I have rarely heard the skittering string writing at the start of the scherzo so cleanly articulated.

The antiphonal exchanges between first and second violins, both here and in the Tristan und Isolde Prelude showed how much the balance and clarity gains from the Hallé's now regular seating arrangement, with the two groups on opposite sides of the stage. Why don't more orchestras do it?

One other nice touch: Mark Elder invited us to welcome a party of school children in the audience, another example of that rapport with audiences that he carries off with such apparent ease.

Copyright © 30 January 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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