Halle 150th Anniversary Concert, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

By Lynne Walker
Monday 04 February 2008 01:00
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No doubt to the relief of those watching the live relay outdoors of the Hallé's 150th-anniversary concert in the Bridgewater Hall, for once it wasn't raining in Manchester. It was on 30 January 1858, when the German-born Charles Hallé presented the first of his Grand Orchestral Concerts.

Weather aside, anniversary concerts are hard to get right. But the Hallé, under its music director Mark Elder, succeeded in celebrating its distinguished past without cake, speeches or party pieces – unless you include Elgar's In the South, which the Hallé premiered under the composer.

With Dmitri Hvorostovsky indisposed, Sir John Tomlinson gamely stepped in with arias including Hans Sach's from Die Meistersinger, as well as Mussorgsky's "Song of the Flea", making wonderful use of his mature vocal resources, his musical and dramatic instinct as infallible as ever.

The younger generation was well-represented, with the Russian pianist Polina Leschenko making light of the fireworks of Weber's Konzertstück. The mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany added to the element of fantasy in the Hallé Youth Choir's exhilarating account of Lambert's The Rio Grande, a great showpiece for these responsive young singers as well as for the deft pianist Jonathan Scott, under the baton of the Hallé's choral director, James Burton.

Also to Burton's credit, the revitalised Hallé Choir was on top form in Vaughan Williams' Toward the Unknown Region, exploding like a harmonic time bomb at "Then we burst forth".

There was an air of expectancy in the quicksilver lightness of passage-work in the premiere of Colin Matthews's Quick Start, a scintillating reworking of a brass quintet piece for full orchestral brass and percussion. And from the piratical élan the orchestra brought to Berlioz's Le Corsaire to the piquant timbres of Thomas Adès's These Premises are Alarmed (a Hallé commission in 1996), and the poetic colouring of Debussy's Fêtes, the Hallé more than lived up to those expectations. Under Elder's invigorating direction, "Mr Hallé's Band" is once more at the forefront of British music-making.

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