Halle / Hamel, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

It's not every evening that an orchestra gives a clutch of world premieres by a composer who died in 1918. The composer was Debussy, four of whose long-lost pieces have been brought to light with the help of musical detective work by Robert Orledge. They include a couple of fragments sketched as incidental music for a performance of King Lear. While on their own they don't add up to much, when played in a sequence - along with two newly orchestrated arias from another incomplete project, a one-act opera on Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher - they offer a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

A brief "Fanfare" gives harp, timpani and brass little more than an elfin-land role, but in the more substantial "The Death of Cordelia" we seemed to be in a twilight world not so far removed from that of the wraith-like Mélisande in Debussy's only complete opera. Katie Van Kooten portrayed Lady Madeline with intuitive sympathy in the longer of the Usher settings, a slight fragility to her silvery tone making the fluid and free-flowing vision of the other world rather moving. Roderick Williams made a thoughtful case for the brief aria for Usher's friend, but there's scarcely sufficient music to allow the listener to really engage with it.

In Berlioz's bold King Lear overture, the old king and Cordelia are graphically portrayed, he in gruff low registers, she on poignant oboe, with the Hallé's expressive principal oboist, Stephane Rancourt, starring both here and in a fast-moving account of the Prelude in Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin. The promising young Dutch conductor Micha Hamel captured the balance between baroque manners and Romantic colouring, while the Hallé, playing with great precision, brought a playful sense of spontaneity to these miniature homages.

Hamel seemed in a hurry in the Ravel, but more than compensated in Fauré's Requiem, where his slow tempos meant that Van Kooten's "Pie Jesu" must be the most measured ever. Williams coped by focusing on the work's intimate character, his "Libera Me" warmly resonant while dramatically lean, and the Hallé Choir sounded luminous, as confident as it was sensitive.

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