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Playfulness and Spirit

MIKE WHEELER joins the
Hallé Orchestra's 150th birthday celebrations


The Hallé Orchestra has been celebrating its 150th birthday in style. A day after the anniversary concert itself in Manchester, they performed some of the same programme to a virtually capacity audience in Nottingham (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 31 January 2008).

The orchestra's long-standing Elgar tradition was honoured in a vivid account of In The South. The initial burst of energy was well sustained, the central 'Roman' episode had all the necessary momentum as well as weight, and Timothy Pooley's playing of the long viola solo was hauntingly authoritative. Mark Elder's convincing overall control of pace included a daring relaxation of tension before the final build-up that nevertheless worked in terms of highlighting the increasing excitement.

Conventional wisdom says that pieces for piano and orchestra of less than full concerto length are awkward to programme. The obvious answer, as on this occasion, is to include two. Polina Leschenko was the soloist in captivating performances of Weber's Konzertstück (played in the orchestra's very first concert in 1858) and Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise. Her touch found an ideal balance between brilliance and delicacy; the final section of the Weber combined playfulness and spirit, and there were some beautifully liquid runs in the Chopin.

The Hallé Orchestra now regularly performs with the first and second violins divided left and right on the platform. For Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, after the interval, they went one stage further, with the cellos and basses similarly split into two groups each, and the violas in the middle. The resulting clarity was something of a revelation, especially in the give-and-take between different string sections in the second movement. The performance began in a relatively low-key way, with the first movement taken at a quite steady tempo. This was clearly part of a long range approach to the work's architecture culminating in a whirlwind of a finale.

The large birthday card presented to the orchestra signed by members of the audience was a small token of affection and respect from the Hallé Orchestra's Nottingham fans.

Copyright © 12 February 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK





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