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A Real Large Work

MIKE WHEELER listens to Alban Gerhardt,
Rory Macdonald and the Hallé Orchestra


I don't, I hope, use the word 'revelatory' lightly, but it really is the only one to describe Alban Gerhardt's performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Hallé Orchestra and their Assistant Conductor, Rory Macdonald (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 11 April 2008).

What they revealed, by their refusal to take the work for granted, is that for too long we have bought a one-sided view of it as almost exclusively mournful and elegiac. Of course the elegiac strand is important, but as this performance showed there is so much more to it than that. In the second movement, for instance, it was the music's energy that was brought out, rather than the shadowy half-lights. The slow movement, by not being milked for every last drop of emotion, came across as more wistful than tragic, even hinting at a kind of contentment, while some of the woodwind detail in the last movement sounded positively perky. Heretical stuff, I know, but while there may still be room for readings that emphasise the music's sadness, as this performance brilliantly demonstrated that's not the whole story by any means.

Alban Gerhardt
Alban Gerhardt

The concert opened with Dvorák's Carnival Overture. Macdonald kept a reasonably firm grip on tempo, and by reining in any tendency for the music to run away with itself paradoxically allowed the work's joie de vivre to come through all the more vividly.

After the interval, came a performance of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony that, again, shed an intriguingly different light on the piece. The vitality of the Hallé's playing coupled with Macdonald's unforced way of highlighting details allowed us to savour not only the intensity of the climactic moments but also the lyrical spaces between -- all the drama with none of the hysteria, if you like.

'A real large work' is how Elgar described his Cello Concerto. Both it and the Tchaikovsky have suddenly got a whole lot larger.

Copyright © 16 April 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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