Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé had a great programme to offer in the ‘Opus One’ series this week at the Bridgewater Hall: Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Weber’s Clarinet concerto no. 2, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5. I heard it on Wednesday afternoon.
Elgar by Elder and his Manchester band is now pretty close to a perfect combination, and the English ‘dolce’ sound from the strings – guest-led by Ruth Rogers – along with a judicious flavouring of portamento was a real pleasure to hear. There was a precise and gradually intensifying fugue, and a glorious tutti at the end.
Weber’s music (for which we were down to 30 strings) is another thing, and Sir Mark and soloist Julian Bliss (‘the man with the golden-keyed clarinet’) gave us a bouncy excursion into classical style, with a slow movement whose introduction touched a soft, ethereal dimension.
And the Tchaikovsky was graced with 10 cellos and eight basses to bring something of the deep mahogany tone Russian orchestral music really needs. They’ve done this before, and done it extremely well, as Sir Mark keeps things under control and on the sane side of hysteria, while whipping up the tensions and ensuring his brass are incisive and powerful. Laurence Rogers played the second movement horn solo beautifully, and it was no accident that the movement itself gained some spontaneous applause. Sir Mark’s waltz tempo in the third was definitely ‘moderato’ – as it says – and in the finale he held the pressure back sufficiently to ensure an integrated and conclusive coda.