HALLE ORCHESTRA Bridgewater Hall
THERE was a nice irony in the Hallé’s contribution to the Echoes Of A Mountain Song open-air-and-landscape series at the Bridgewater Hall, in that it took us to the mountain tops in the first half … and the second sphere of hell at the end. Right to roam, indeed.
The centrepiece was Delius’s A Song Of The High Hills – a choral symphony in effect – written in 1912 and one of the Yorkshire-born composer’s most powerful extended pieces.
I find his harmonic style at this point more telling than in some later ones, as it finds periodic anchorages amid its tonal slithering, with less of a feeling of mental sea-sickness. That was helped by Sir Mark Elder’s clear account of its long paragraphs and the hymn-like structure of much of its melodic flow.
And there’s a spiritual aspect to its evocation, too. Who else would mark the summit of a mountain climb with quiet and gentle singing from the wordless chorus, rather than a blast of orchestral triumph?
This account made the case for its being a great work indeed, and there are two remarkable climaxes in which the orchestra made its presence felt, complete with six horn parts, two harps, seven timpani and 60 strings, all skilfully controlled and articulated along with the Hallé Choir’s accomplished contribution and the purity of soloists Malin Christensson (soprano) and Robin Tritschler (tenor).
That the whole massive construction, from softest whisper to richest paean, never lost momentum was due to Elder’s sympathy for its language and expertise in its idiom.
The remainder of the concert was more of a conundrum. Stravinsky’s Four Norwegian Moods, chosen presumably because Delius once lived in Norway, was certainly a contrast – neo-classical, but sounding somewhat thin with 32 strings only (neo-classical style from the mid-20th century is by no means the same as classical style as we now know it: they did things differently then). The bouncy finale was the most ingratiating movement.
Then it was Russian gloom for the second half. Rachmaninov’s Three Russian Songs were a good demonstration piece for the Hallé Choir and their language skills, and accompanied with vivid colour by the orchestra, but the singers knew their stuff so well the two seemed somewhat disconnected at one point.
Finally, Tchaikovsky’s Francesca Da Rimini, a tone poem about those who make mistakes being condemned to everlasting torment. Sir Mark whipped all the furies of the inferno into action in his excited reading, with a tremendous vision of the abyss.