Review: Halle Opus Concert at Bridgewater Hall

It is 2:15pm on a wet but rather mild Wednesday afternoon in December, and I find myself at Manchester`ss premier classical music venue and home to one of the world`s  finest orchestras; The Bridgewater Hall.

I am there to listen to this wonderful orchestra, The Halle Orchestra perform three works under the baton of the Halle`s principal guest conductor, Ryan Wigglesworth.

Amazingly, for this concert, as indeed for most concerts, the orchestra only have three rehearsal sessions with the conductor prior to performance, and had their first rehearsal with him yesterday morning! Armed with this knowledge only makes you appreciate their accumulative genius and craft even more.

The first work on offer this afternoon was a suite of incidental music from Mother Goose by Maurice Ravel. It was new-to- me music, and although there were the trademark ravel giveaways, it was also some of the most plaintive and sentimental music I have heard by this composer. Very lightly scored with interesting use of instruments, including some rather realistic bird calls, but the music was very “samey” in texture and tempo, and even the final crescendo and finale failed to wake me. The piece was very soporific, and although beautifully conducted, and excellently played, it seemed a rather odd start to a concert… sending the audience to sleep rather than wakening and enlivening them.

Next came one of Haydn`s 106 symphonies. This one, without a title, number 88, written in 1787. Once again, this was superbly played, and Wigglesworth is a very demanding conductor; he stands tall and erect with much flamboyant arm waving, but if he wants to exact a specific effect from a certain section or player, he bends over and using his baton rather like a wand points it at them rather unerringly. It has the desired effect though, and the music was sublime.

After the interval, and to the main piece of the concert; Brahm`s difficult, interesting and slightly unconventional violin concerto (opus 77). A well known work, and often performed. Rarely though is a violinist found who can emote quite like Viviane Hagner did this afternoon. My knowledge of the technical aspects of violin playing is extremely limited, but I do know a fine sound and solid creative interpretation when I hear one, and one would have to go a very long way to find a finer interpretation than Hagner`s. The concerto features a lot of high notes from the solo violin, which in previous performances and even in some well known recordings, have sounded tinny and screechy. Not here! Bravo!

Once again, the Halle Orchestra were in absolute fine form, and under strict but magnificent control by Wigglesworth. This must be their final classical concert of the year before the Halle starts to let its hair down a little and the Christmas spirit kicks in, and as such, it was good to hear some “real” music during December!

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