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Ensemble

Sparkling Performances

The Hallé Orchestra plays Colin Matthews,
Debussy, Poulenc and Tchaikovsky,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER

 

For the last five years Colin Matthews has been orchestrating, for the Hallé Orchestra, all of Debussy's Preludes for piano. The project is now complete, with the appearance of the last five, together with Matthews' own postscript.

I haven't heard them all, but from these and an earlier batch of four encountered a couple of years ago, it's hard to imagine it being done better, and they got sensitive, sparkling performances from the Hallé and Mark Elder [Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 18 May 2007]. 'Voiles' had all the hypnotic qualities of the original; 'Bruyères' made effective use of solo violin and cello; there was a fine sense of exuberance in 'Les Collines d'Anacapri'; the distant horns at the end set the seal on a ravishingly scored 'La Terrace des Audiences au Clair de Lune'; while in 'La Cathédrale Engloutie', Matthews' orchestration brought out both the Musorgsky-like overtones and, in his use of gongs, bells and glockenspiel, suggestions of gamelan sonorities.

Matthews' own three-minute Postlude -- M Croche (named after Debussy's journalistic pseudonym) is partly intended as a portrait of the composer, and captures both his refined ear for orchestral colour and the waspish wit of which his critical alter ego was capable.

As part of the pre-concert talk, Pascal Rogé played the original piano versions of the Debussy pieces, in performances full of both delicacy and power. In the main concert he was the soloist in something quite different, Poulenc's Aubade for piano and 18 instruments. Poulenc called it a 'choreographic concerto', and it comes complete with scenario concerning the goddess Diana. But it sounds like nothing so much as Poulenc ringing down the curtain on the roaring twenties. There are passages that try to recapture the knockabout fun of the Les Six days, but in the end it is in its way as much a lament for a past era as, say, the Elgar Cello Concerto. Rogé and the Hallé players caught the ambivalent tone -- manic energy alternating with darker, quieter passages -- nicely.

Tchaikovsky's early symphonies still tend to be under-valued, but No 2, at least, is coming into its own, and it got as thrilling a performance as I can remember, with real fire in its belly in the first movement. The second movement march was crisp and dapper, the scherzo had just the right blend of energy and lightness, and the playing in the finale was spine-tinglingly nimble and precise.

Copyright © 26 May 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK

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THE HALLÉ ORCHESTRA PLAYS ELGAR AND WAGNER

COLIN MATTHEWS' 'PLUTO'

THE HALLÉ ORCHESTRA

MARK ELDER

PASCAL ROGE

COLIN MATTHEWS IS PUBLISHED BY FABER MUSIC

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