Halle/Schiff/Clein, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Wednesday 11 December 2002
Heinrich Schiff has become so closely associated with Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto that it was hard to believe he wasn't going to perform it himself. But no, the Hallé publicity was right – Schiff would conduct and his pupil and former BBC Young Musician of the Year, Natalie Clein, would grapple with this most intriguing of concertos.
She's a soloist who doesn't get in the way of the music. With an admirable directness and grave dignity, she approached the opening repeated Ds, whose hypnotic ticking gradually opens out to let in some spasmodic twitchings, some fleeting scurrying and some intermittent buzzing. Unfazed by the anarchic brass that bursts in upon this intimate exercise, Clein demonstrated the lyricism on which she's building a solid reputation, her instrument (a velvety-toned Strad on loan from Schiff himself) blossoming into a rich burnished voice. Threads became soaring melodies, fragments made textural sense. Whatever the scenario – political, emotional, philosophical, physical – this powerful music conjures up for each individual listener, it could not fail to make an impact. Not, at least, with such impassioned playing from Clein and the musicians of the Hallé Orchestra, nor with the space in which Schiff allowed the music to unfurl. The audience was mesmerised.
After the lofty grandeur of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, in which the bear-like Schiff cut a defiant path between triumphalism and turmoil, and the sometimes unbearable combativeness of Lutoslawski's concerto, Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony was not calculated to relieve the tension. Selecting a remarkably slow tempo for the opening introduction, Schiff paced the work with absolute conviction and control, always leaving room for the melancholy woodwind to breathe, for the strings to shimmer wistfully in the limping waltz, and for the brass to add dark, rasping density to the whole spellbinding picture.
Schiff's Pathétique paints a picture of tragic inevitability, made more bearable in this performance by some beautiful clarinet playing and dark-hued bassoon sounds, cutting through the suffocating intensity of Tchaikovsky's string-writing. The sinisterly swaggering third movement march, nimbly executed at high speed, whirled maniacally before shuddering to an abrupt stop.
Scarcely pausing for breath, Schiff sank into the closing Adagio's opening string lament. This bleak finale, sombre even in its half-consolatory second theme, offered no solution – just a glimpse into the depths of despair. I confess to agreeing with those who hear in this music Tchaikovsky's own resigned acceptance of his tragic fate.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 West poised to join forces with President Assad in face of Islamic State
- 3 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 4 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
The Hateful Eight trailer: Teaser for Quentin Tarantino film leaks early
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile