Hallé Orchestra/Paavo Berglund – 13 November

King Christian II – Nocturne
Humoresques for violin and orchestra, Opp.87 & 89
Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65

Lyn Fletcher (violin)

Hallé Orchestra
Paavo Berglund

Reviewed by: Paul Cutts

Reviewed: 13 November, 2003
Venue: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The Hallé’s Thursday Series is the cornerstone on which the Manchester orchestra’s artistic profile stands. Championing new and neglected pieces alongside the standard canon, recent Thursday events have traversed musical byways as diverse as David Sawer and Schumann, John Casken and Anton Bruckner. While this concert partnered more established names, it nonetheless married less familiar music with a seminal work: Sibelius’s Six Humoresques for violin and orchestra and Shostakovich’s mighty Symphony No.8.

The Humoresques emerged from sketches for an abandoned second violin concerto, which goes some way to explaining their scope and emotional breadth. Sibelius expressed the view that the six pieces reflected “the anguish of existence…fitfully lit by the sun” and Lyn Fletcher captured this sense of shadow and light in a performance of ineffable loveliness. Precisely because of their unexpected shifts in mood, these are difficult works to bring off and it pays to have a soloist attuned to an ensemble. Fletcher has been leader of the Hallé since 1997 and an evident mutual respect and shared vision paid dividends here.

Fletcher’s tone is rich, sweet but never saccharine, and her sense of musical architecture uncanny – helped by a conductor in Paavo Berglund who is steeped in this repertoire. The opening Andantino is a bittersweet mood-setter that leads to the Hungarian-inflected Commodo – not without its challenges. Fletcher’s harmonics were beautifully modulated, as exemplary an exercise in finesse and control as one could wish for.

If the icy variety of the Humoresques raises questions of a clouded world, the terrifying tautness of Shostakovich’s Eighth – as Gerard McBurney’s insightful programme note pointed out – pushes issues of musical identity to the limits. In its economy of ideas – mapped out on a huge musical canvas – it represents one of the most significant achievements in the symphonic literature. Berglund may be aged and not in the best of health but his masterly control of such structures remains as powerful as ever. From the brooding menace of the introduction to the overwhelming (both in terms of volume and psychological ferocity) of the fifth movement, this was a performance of real vision.

The inexorable developmental logic of the performance owed much to the Hallé’s responsiveness and ensemble and Paul Barritt. His (guest) leadership continues to inspire confidence – he’s a wonderfully unobtrusive yet focused and inspiring front man. All in all, a memorable evening that reinforces the view that the Hallé is increasingly a musical force to be reckoned with.

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