Jonathon Heyward expertly piloted the orchestra that bears Charles Hallé’s name through the first of its April ‘Opus one’ programmes last night (it’s repeated tonight and on Sunday in Manchester, and on Friday in Blackburn).
Hallé was born 200 years ago this week – we now know that his real birthday was 10th April 2019, though he celebrated it on the 11th, his baptismal day. (I was a bit miffed that someone changed my programme note in this respect to make it inaccurate, but the ‘Timeline’ supplied alongside it, provided on the basis of information I’ve previously compiled for the Hallé memorabilia exhibition now at Central Library here in Manchester, kept the correct date).
Hallé was never really rated as a composer in his own day (he was famous for so much else!), but he did publish a number of piano pieces of his own creation, and for this week’s concerts his orchestra is playing a compilation and orchestration based on two of them by Christoph Wagner, recently composer-in-residence at Hagen in Germany, Hallé’s birthplace.
This was a beautiful example of re-animation in its own right. Wagner has re-written the figuration in Hallé’s Souvenir to make it more orchestral in concept – and introduced some telling imitation and counter-melody, too – with the result that you feel you’re hearing an unknown piece of Mendelssohn for its brief duration. It begins in A minor but changes to major at the end, making a perfect lead-in to Hallé’s Scherzo in D, his one published piece of ‘heavyweight’ piano writing.
Here it is Beethoven we feel we’re hearing, and we should hardly be surprised, as Hallé championed Beethoven’s works – piano and orchestral – all his life. Again Christoph Wagner imaginatively and subtly creates something multi-coloured and varied from Hallé’s piano textures, with its own moments of suspense and drama. Jonathon Heyward caught the spirit of it immediately and very effectively.
Of course that was not all this concert had to offer. It began with real Beethoven, the Leonora no. 3 overture, played with the full body of strings (but old-style timps) and brassy and full of vivid contrast in its livelier moments.
Then the orchestra was pared severely down for Mozart’s Piano concerto no. 17 K453 – two sets of eight violinists, six violas, four celli and three bassi. That was an excellent decision, giving soloist Heejae Kim, winner of the 2015 Terence Judd Prize, the chance to deliver the solo with delicacy, style and charm. Jonathon Heyward found some interesting robustness in the ritornello at the start of the slow movement – and every bit of whimsy in what followed – and I loved the delightful clipped articulation in the orchestra in the finale, counterbalancing the equally dainty piano performance.
Heejae Kim returned with a brief encore – Sibelius’s Le Sapin (The Spruce) – providing a forward glimpse towards the end of the concert.
This was great Sibelius – Symphony no. 5. Heyward and the Hallé gave us in effect a two-movement work, the Andante segue-ing into the finale to balance the double introduction-scherzo structure of the first movement. There were brilliant colours (some guesting woodwind players doing their best to make an impact) and a great sense of momentum allied to finely controlled tempo transitions, with assured phrasing and tenderness in the slow movement and a sense of inescapable logic in the progression of pregnant dissonances to final resolution at the end.