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Simply Magical

MIKE WHEELER listens to
Haydn, Sibelius and Mendelssohn
played by the Hallé Orchestra


The Hallé Orchestra has been re-thinking the conventional orchestral layout on a number of occasions in recent years. Haydn's Symphony No 48 opened this concert (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 11 March 2009) with the orchestra in an eighteenth-century format -- strings on three sides of a square, with first and second violins facing each other, a group of cellos and a double bass on each side, and with everyone except the cellos standing. This in itself, of course, doesn't guarantee a fine performance, but the resulting clarity of the sound, particularly with Haydn's spectacularly high-lying horn parts, had tremendous impact. Mark Elder directed a reading that was full of vigour, with flowing elegance in the second movement and springy rhythms in the minuet.

I first heard Alina Pogostkina when she played the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Hallé Orchestra in Nottingham two and a half years ago. If her performance of the same work on this occasion was marginally less impressive, this was mainly because the quieter passages in the first movement were a bit too inward, not leaving enough in reserve for the slow movement. But her technique is faultless, with an ability to fine her tone down to a whisper when needed, there was plenty of energy and drive in quick passages, and the opening was simply magical.

The tonal virtues of the orchestra's Haydn, with its clean, low-vibrato sound, continued in Mendelssohn's Symphony No 3. The atmospheric introduction was marked more by gentle melancholy than by heavy brooding; the second movement was neat and dapper, and a wide emotional range was opened up in the third. The last section of the finale has had something of a bad press over the years, but as this performance showed, Mendelssohn's 'maestoso' marking needn't imply 'slow and stately'. At Mark Elder's quick, buoyant tempo it was simply electrifying. It would be nice to think that if George Bernard Shaw could have heard a performance like this he might not have been so ready to dismiss the work as 'confoundedly genteel'.

Copyright © 8 April 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK


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