MUSIC / Halle / Nagano - Free Trade Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
Both in the quality of playing and in the programme itself Kent Nagano's first Free Trade Hall concert as the Halle's Music Director was a fine declaration of intent.

He chose the perfect curtain-raiser in the British premiere of Messiaen's 1989 Mozart homage, Un sourire, whose eight minutes of precisely imagined iridescent sound amounted to a consecration of the arena.

John Adams was then on hand to explain the American resonances of his El Dorado, which the music itself had some difficulty in living up to, though it was splendidly played. Adams is an engaging communicator who likes a strong disco beat and has a fine ear for punchy orchestral texture. Nagano obviously believes in him - which is almost more important than the quality of the music.

Concentrated listening was one hallmark of an unsensational but thoroughly musical and dedicated account of the Firebird ballet. The final tableau was pure class - to be able to cast a spell and release it with equal potency is a rare gift, and to do so without fuss or self-aggrandisement smacks of mastery. It is too early yet to tell Birmingham and Liverpool to eat their hearts out, but on this showing it is a pleasure Mancunians can anticipate with some confidence.