In the South (Alassio) Concert Overture, Op.50
In Moonlight (Canto Popolare) *
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano) &
Mark Elder (piano) *
Symphony recorded September 2001, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; In the South, July 2002, BBC Studio 7, Manchester; In Moonlight, October 2002, Bridgewater Hall
HALLÉ CD HLL 7500
Chanson de Matin, Op.15/2
Cockaigne (In London Town) Concert Overture, Op.40
Serenade for Strings, Op.20
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36 [plus the works original Finale]
Enigma recorded October 2002, Bridgewater Hall; other works in July 2002, Studio 7
HALLÉ CD HLL 7501
Aladdin Entrance March
Flute Concerto (1926)
Symphony No.5, Op.50
Andrew Nicholson (flute)
Recorded May and October 2002 in Bridgewater Hall
HALLÉ CD HLL 7502
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2003
CD No: See above
Duration: See above
The Hallé Orchestra is showing a great deal of enterprise in launching its own CD label. It’s more than justified – impressive things are happening under Mark Elder’s directorship.
Pragmatically, one has to think of the price-point – these are mid-price releases of studio and live performances superbly produced by Andrew Keener. Yet, LSO Live is budget and has set a high standard. There’s already an Elgar One in its catalogue – a beauty under Colin Davis. However, Mark Elder’s is very fine too.
And Elgar’s wonderful First Symphony is a good place to start – this is Hallé territory: it gave the premiere in 1908 under Hans Richter. It was also a Barbirolli favourite. Elder has expended a great deal of preparation on this Great British Symphony. Actually it’s just a great symphony, one with a distinct European lineage. A few (appropriate) Barbirolli-like groans from Elder display his involvement. His orchestra responds magnificently – he issues a challenge and the musicians respond. This is the basis for partnership. Elder’s is a weighty and thoughtful rendition, as alive to passionate rhetoric as intimate reverie. It’s a reading that satisfies symphonic breadth, Elgar’s complex scoring, and the diverse emotions written into the music. It’s a performance one wants to return to, a studio rendition at concert pitch, at once meticulous, spontaneous and heartfelt, the glorious slow movement tenderly done.
In the South is seamlessly thought through. Elder takes the long-view without denuding the score’s exuberance, atmosphere or sentiment. Timothy Pooley’s viola solo is beautifully done, amidst the pictorial incident offered by (antiphonal) first and second violins. This canto popolare is heard again as In Moonlight, a first recording, setting words by Shelley.
On the other Elgar CD, Enigma Variations is subtly drawn, flecks of texture decorate singular thoughts. As these ’friends pictured within’ develop, one appreciates the concentration of the Hallé’s response in this live performance – its refinement of sound, the breadth of its colour palette, and its ability to make chamber music. Elder’s deeply felt traversal touches nerves, especially when highlighting Elgar’s very personal remembrances; it’s a very expressive performance, appropriately reticent, with flair and nobility when required.
The Serenade is delightfully unforced in the outer movements, which pivot an exceptional account of the ’Larghetto’ – spacious and deeply felt. The string playing throughout is cultivated. Cockaigne is a joy – full of detail, bloom and vibrancy – London in Elgar’s day seems an altogether nicer place. Chanson de Matin (a shame we couldn’t have also had its nocturnal companion) is expressively done. Elgar’s original ’throwaway’ ending for Enigma is also a first recording – good to have.
As indicated, one important feature of these recordings is Mark Elder’s use of antiphonal violins. This was how the orchestras of the day were seated, what the composers wrote for then. Elgar exploits the dialogue possibilities – and time and time again under Elder’s direction the point is vividly made.
This applies equally to the Nielsen CD, where the clarity of the first and second violin parts is a bonus on its own terms – the seconds’ rhythmic nagging against the firsts’ longer lines is made explicit. The more I hear Elder’s Nielsen 5, the more I like it – a slow-burn appreciation of an impressive interpretation. I could have done with a more disruptive display from the side drummer as this instrument attempts to halt the orchestra’s progress in the first movement; and the opening of the second movement could be set at a higher voltage. However, Elder’s punctilious address to ideas in microcosm pays dividends as the opening militaristic procession advances. His sonic calibrations chart inexorably to the closing indomitable bars.
The whimsical Flute Concerto is given a wonderful performance by Andrew Nicholson, the Hallé’s principal. He is rich-toned yet remains ’silver’ in timbre. Nicholson appreciates the spectral and elegant qualities of this concerto, and also the personality that Nielsen adds-in, not least for the trombone: a concerto with designs on music-theatre. This CD’s first recording is the Aladdin excerpt, a suitably exotic-sounding piece of frippery and a charming piece of pastiche.
Each of these CDs is recommendable – they are splendid calling cards for the Hallé’s new era under Mark Elder’s musicianship and motivational skills. The bigger picture is that each CD joins existing recommendations without dislodging them. The response of the Hallé makes the next release – of Butterworth and Delius – keenly anticipated. Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra seem to be developing a truly significant partnership.