MUSIC / Halle / Pommier - Free Trade Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
The Halle has made a spirited start to the season under the new aegis of Kent Nagano, and to criticise it for risky programming seems like biting the hand that has only just started to feed us. Sadly Roussel's Second Symphony, with which Jean-Bernard Pommier concluded his programme on Thursday, was one risk that failed to pay off.

If a super-refined ear for harmonic elaboration was all it took, this score might well be a masterpiece (and Bax's symphonies are proof enough that such hypertrophy can yield convincing large-scale structures). But Roussel's rhythmical language is so stale, his phrasing so persistently short-winded, that any sense of overall growth goes by the board.

The Halle's painstaking account might have been more rewarding had it not followed Prokofiev's equally overwritten (though vastly more characterful) Second Piano Concerto.

Here the engagement of Shura Cherkassky, just one day after his 81st birthday, was another risk. Inevitably there are now passages where allowance has to be made for age - the huge first-movement cadenza has to come up rather frequently for air, and rhythms are less sharp than of old. But there was much to relish in the last two movements, and the fact that the piece remains in Cherkassky's repertoire at all is cause for astonishment.

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