George Butterworth's wistful orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad opened the Hallé orchestra's Anglo-German Prom – but not before we had been reminded of the words that inspired it. What a neat idea to have two young actors, Rupert Evans and Tom McKay, bookend it with a recitation of the A E Houseman poems that Butterworth also set as songs. Indeed "Loveliest of Trees" provided the melodic kernel for the rhapsody, and to hear its music steal in where words were finally exhausted intensified the subtext in more ways than one could say.
At the close, as a solo flute caught on the wind evaporated into a haze of memories, Sir Mark Elder separated the two inner voices of "Is My Team Ploughing?", removing one to the farthest reaches of the hall, to "beyond the grave". Butterworth died young in the trenches of the Somme.
Vaughan Williams' 8th Symphony was not the only one by him to be premiered by the Hallé, but its innovative exuberance makes it a good choice for a double anniversary: 50 years since VW's death, and the 150th birthday of the Hallé. The 8th – superbly rendered here by Sir Mark and the orchestra – is essentially an elderly composer's continuing quest for newness. From its solo trumpet and vibraphone opening – where variations go in search of a theme which, once found, proves aspirational – to the joyful "heavy metal" of its tuned gongs and bell-laden toccata finale, this curious odyssey gives the lie to any suggestion that Vaughan Williams was conservative at heart. Elder picked up on the humour, too, of the flat- caps-and-ale intimations of the bumptious wind band scherzo. Virtuosic brass playing did the Northern brass-band tradition proud.
And then the "people's violin concerto", the Bruch G minor, played for once like it hadn't long since turned into a cliché. From the expansive "operatic" delivery of her opening declamation, Janine Jansen projected it with unerring musicality, every phrase a seemingly unexpected pleasure for her – and us. How rarely one hears a performance in which the pyrotechnics are as meaningfully shaped as the lyric effusions. It was, in two words, very beautiful.
Till Eulenspiegel was, of course, very naughty. Sir Mark might have made him more so with more guffaws and rowdiness. A stumble from the first horn at the start showed that the heat was on, almost pre-empting the moment when the long arm of the law finally collars the loveable rogue.
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