As the prolonged final applause at the Hallé’s recent concert at the Westmorland Hall faded, a gentleman rose to his feet, stretched luxuriously, turned to his neighbour and expressed the opinion held by everybody in the Hall at that moment: ‘Magnificent!’
Three composers had been represented: Grieg, Richard Strauss and Sibelius, each knowing how to write effectively for orchestra. One of the memorable features of this concert was the extraordinary extent to which the players, guided by their confident, assured maestro, Jonathon Heyward, were able to illuminate the widely-varied styles and idioms of each piece.
The five excerpts from Grieg’s two Peer Gynt Suites, each short but with hugely-differing characteristics, were convincingly and colourfully presented. Laurence Rogers was the musicianly, resolute, noble, but also occasionally uneven-in- quality soloist in Richard Strauss’s archly Romantic 1st Horn Concerto. This comprises a vast swathe of lush orchestral and solo material, the two ingredients needing to combine impeccably. Sibelius – a superb orchestrator, but sometimes known for his cruelly-awkward string writing – demonstrates both features during
the course of his 2nd Symphony and the strings dealt with this lattercomplication convincingly and magnificently.
The performance of each work, though, possessed many common denominators. Pride of place goes to the Hallé’s string sound: rich, sonorous, intoxicatingly lush in tutti passages; mesmerizingly, breathtakingly controlled in the quieter moments; the many lengthy pizzicato sections were immaculately managed; the cello/bass lines were
always meaningful. Brass input was splendid, sometimes discreet, sometimes biting and pungent but invariably relevant. Woodwind input, both solo and sectional, was excellent and always well-projected. Percussion presence, professional to the extreme, was a joy to hear (and witness!).
Refined musicianship was at the helm throughout. Eardrum-bursting orchestral tuttis were thrilling, but silences, too, were compelling. Jonathon Heyward – full of youthful dynamism, with an ultra-clear beat, an eloquent left hand and shoulder, but no unnecessary gestures – would have been delighted with the way the concert unfolded, leading, almost inevitably, to that final glorious, triumphant blaze of Finnish sound. ‘Magnificent!’ indeed!