Friday, 13 January 2017

Review of Halle Orchestra concert on 12th January 2017

HALLE ORCHESTRA   Bridgewater Hall

The main attraction of the Hallé’s concert under former chief guest conductor Markus Stenz might have seemed to be the new work for violin and orchestra by Julian Anderson, called In Lieblicher Bläue, with soloist Carolin Widmann (receiving its first Manchester performance).

Ingenious though that was in its construction, theatricality and programmatic content, the abiding thought about the concert was that it provided a masterclass in orchestral style when playing Mozart and Schumann.

In Lieblicher Bläue, inspired by a prose poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, contains some glorious opportunities for traditional lyrical violin playing, and certainly put the soloist at the centre of attention, as she began her role off-stage (with a kind of call-and-response interchange with the orchestra), made her entrance with a cadenza (somewhat drowned by the accompanying textures, in reality), and eventually came to a point of disconnection with her fellow-musicians, first turning her back on the audience and finally playing her plaintive motif in apparent disregard of the rest of the music.

It’s all related to imagery in the Hölderlin text, as are other events in the piece such as the soloist tapping the violin strings with a pencil and rumbling from a thundersheet. It seemed to me that its rhapsodic nature, with little sense of rhythmic propulsion, was curiously similar to the sort of music some composers were writing about 100 years ago, for all its claims to contemporary attention.
The solo itself, almost needless to say, was beautifully played by Carolin Widmann, herself dressed in lieblicher Bläue.

Before that we heard Markus Stenz and the Hallé play Mozart as he should be played – Symphony no. 41, with a small band laid out on classical lines (cellos and basses split and symmetrically either side of the centre), and, more importantly, classical style in its phrasing, vivid contrasts and awareness of rhetoric.

Some of those contrasts went way beyond what’s written in the score, but seemed always to be right, and the violins’ articulation, in particular (with Lyn Fletcher leading) was a joy. I also loved the balance of voices in the slow movement and the low growls from those double basses with a fifth string to create them. There were touches of mystery in the trio section of the Minuet, and the finale surged along, clear and precisely articulated, but with enough flexibility of pulse to mark the pivotal surprises in the harmonic plan – and a tiny, thrilled intake of breath before the amazing multi-contrapuntal coda.

Schumann’s fourth symphony was a different beast, but again given with supreme authority by a conductor who knows that it, also, needs creative steering beyond the text on the page.

Markus Stenz kept the horns on a tight leash in the first movement, until they were needed for climactic emphasis, and brought Romantic warmth to the music’s lovely melodies. Textures were balanced with skill throughout, rhythms were full of vigour, and the finale delivered extraordinary impact, beginning with a majestic sense of drama, then building and relaxing tensions again and again towards a life-affirming climax (and a mad-for-it coda!).

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