Hallé Falstaff

0 of 5 stars

Falstaff – Symphonic Study in C minor, Op.68
Romance for bassoon and orchestra, Op.62
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Smoking Cantata

Graham Salvage (bassoon)

Heinrich Schiff (cello)

Andrew Shore (baritone)

Hallé Orchestra
Mark Elder

Falstaff and Romance recorded July 2003 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; Cello Concerto and Smoking Cantata recorded October 2003 in BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2004
Duration: 70 minutes

The good news is that faults encountered on the first pressing of this CD (an assurance of a re-press having delayed this review) – and which occurred after producer Andrew Keener had signed-off a fault-free master – are now corrected. If you’ve noticed a click on the majority of Falstaff’s cueing points and ambient fade-out both in that work and in the Cello Concerto, then a replacement copy free of these blemishes can be arranged (please see below). Interestingly a few clicks remain on this second pressing – just before the starts of the Romance, the concerto (and also its Adagio), and the cantata – but only on selected machines! Having tried this re-pressed CD on three players, one reproduces the afore-mentioned clicks, the other two relay only perfection. Life’s too short to worry about it!

In many ways Mark Elder’s account of Falstaff is exceptional. His is an interpretation of vivid incident and clarity of detail, punctiliously prepared. However, it is also a little garish, maybe something that the admirably tangible and vivid recording emphasises. Elder’s is a ‘tougher’ approach to this music, not unwelcome, but which surprisingly lacks for warmth and wistful expression. Elder has the pertinent advantage of antiphonal violins (but so too does Boult) and over its 35-minute course Elder’s Falstaff seems too consistently brilliant, too bustling, and the Hallé’s playing, while first class, is over-drilled and lacking inwardness. I suspect that Elder is simply too calculating of effects and rather subsumes the fantasy and humanity that this music needs. As a study in orchestral virtuosity, and superb scoring, it is excellent, but the forceful, strident and clinical aspects aren’t always appropriate. However, relative disappointment can be measured against high expectancy.

The touching Romance for bassoon is eloquently turned by Graham Salvage and sensitively accompanied. The Smoking Cantata, all 40 seconds of it, is a “jape” (Michael Kennedy), Elgar setting a friend’s words about ‘not smoking’. It’s rather fun and begins and ends with a dramatic chord that Verdi would have been proud of. Andrew Shore is suitably declamatory.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto has had more than its fair share of mawkish performances. I’m inclined to say that the Starker/Slatkin RCA recording is close to my ideal, and Heinrich Schiff too is an exemplar of how to distil emotion from this piece without going overboard. He finds the numbed stoicism that is essential to Elgar’s spirit, and Elder and his orchestra are alive to the work’s subtle poignancy; there’s a convincing ebb and flow throughout. Heartfelt shading and an involving volubility set the seal on an innate view of this much-put-upon music. The balance between cello and orchestra is finely judged, but the spacious acoustic isn’t the most ingratiating in terms of tone.

A mixed release, then, but Falstaff’s vibrancy is often thrilling, and Schiff’s view of the concerto is one to return to. Some Hallé CD links below.

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