Hallé Opus Series, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

Imagine your school has adopted a player from City or United. Not a not a striker or sweeper, but a percussionist or tuba-player in the ranks of the Hallé. And you come, as part of four enthusiastic groups of primary children did, to this Hallé "Opus" series concert, to see and hear your player in action. I know I'd have been hoping for musical fireworks, something visceral and contemporary, with lots of action and I'm not sure I'd have sat so patiently through Purcell, Bach and Mozart in this slightly underwhelming, though cleverly devised programme, under Harry Christophers's stylish direction.

Imagine your school has adopted a player from City or United. Not a not a striker or sweeper, but a percussionist or tuba-player in the ranks of the Hallé. And you come, as part of four enthusiastic groups of primary children did, to this Hallé "Opus" series concert, to see and hear your player in action. I know I'd have been hoping for musical fireworks, something visceral and contemporary, with lots of action and I'm not sure I'd have sat so patiently through Purcell, Bach and Mozart in this slightly underwhelming, though cleverly devised programme, under Harry Christophers's stylish direction.

Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat certainly gave four principals from the Hallé a chance to display accomplishment of a uniformly high order, and to execute the composer's intentions while bringing their own ideas on articulation and phrasing to the score. The work's provenance remains a mystery but the French impresario who, according to the composer's letters, omitted to give the work its promised first airing, may have realised that, contrary to Mozart's own opinion, it wouldn't in fact have "made a great hit". Not even the sensitive accompaniment Christophers drew from the chamber-musical forces of the orchestra or the interplay between the polished soloists could disguise the fact that the first movement feels long and that the Adagio is not one of the composer's most inspired. After that Bach's Third Orchestral Suite brimmed with wit and brilliance, even the famous flowing Air (of G-string fame) sounding remarkably fresh.

In Britten's A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, the youngsters (and we older members of the audience who still remember when the now dated text accompanied Britten's filmscore for the Ministry of Education) got their reward. The children were thrilled, clapping their hands over their ears at the boisterous brass, beating their small fists in imitation of the timpani as it takes up the muscular theme Britten borrowed from Purcell's theatre music for Abdelazer. It was a beautifully judged, exuberant performance, Christophers's brisk tempos testing the Hallé players' deftness. The concert opened with the suite from Abdelazer, featuring this theme in a Rondeau, and its dramatic flourishes and intensity suggest that Purcell's passions were stirred by Aphra Benn's bloody Restoration tragedy.

On this evidence, the first occasion on which Harry met Hallé, there's clearly future in pursuing the relationship. Although baroque music has not featured prominently on the orchestra's agenda during its recent revitalisation, it's an area that's ripe for development - and one of which audiences more accustomed to big-boned Hallé repertoire will surely become less suspicious. Manchester's new £5m, biannual arts festival, starting in 2007, and featuring new work and new ideas, should find a willing partner in the protean Hallé.

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