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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Prom 16

I did my degree in Manchester in the 1970's a few years after Barbirolli's death when his place at the helm of the Halle Orchestra had been taken by James Loughran. Whilst Loughran did a sterling job, it has taken until now for the orchestra to really recapture the form that had under Barbirolli. Since Sir Mark Elder took over in 2000 the orchestra has been in brilliant shape. Their Prom last night showed them to be delivering a remarkable consistency of tone throughout the whole orchestra. I'm not quite sure what exactly the 'new' Halle sound is like, but it is certainly impressive, musical and beautifully textured.

For their Proms visit Elder and the orchestra chose to perform the RVW Symphony (no. 8) which they had premièred under Barbirolli in 1958. But Elder started with a poised and finely textured account of Butterworth's rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. From the very first notes this was spine tingling stuff, only marred by the rather inept delivery of a selection of the poems before and after the rhapsody. It was a nice idea to include the poems but having them declaimed in poor demotic by a pair of young actors, whose main experience would seem to be in TV soaps, was not a good idea.

The RVW performance was similarly beautifully controlled, where necessary, so that the string Cavatina was finely shaped and very consistent whereas the wind and brass only scherzo displayed a fine appreciation of RVW's humour. In the outer movements the percussion section gave vent to RVW's lively percussion parts, making the tuned percussion elements more noticeable and more extravagant than I remember from Hickox and the Philharmonia's recent performance. Which is certainly a good thing, late RVW contains quite a few fascinating experiments with textures and timbres.

After the interval we had a performance of the 1st violin concerto by RVW's teacher, Bruch. Janine Jansen was the poised soloist, spinning out Bruch's long lines. This was a fine performance, but which have many of the RVW outings been coupled with serious 19th century Romantic beasts. The last concert we went to included Rachmaninov's 1st Piano concerto and next week RVW's Piano Concerto is coupled with Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade. I've no objections to these works, but couldn't we have had some RVW symphonic pieces coupled with something a little riskier and spikier.

The concert concluded with a lively and witty performance of Strauss's Til Eulenspiegel with Elder showing what a fine Strauss conductor he is.

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