tue 25/06/2024

Koranyi, Hallé, Berglund, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beauty and joy | reviews, news & interviews

Koranyi, Hallé, Berglund, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beauty and joy

Koranyi, Hallé, Berglund, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beauty and joy

Cello soloist teamed with a former-cellist conductor for outstanding performance

Alert, encouraging, inspiring: Tabita Berglund with the HalleBill Lam, The Hallé

It’s catching on … for the second consecutive night I heard an orchestra begin by playing, to a standing audience, the Ukrainian national anthem.

The previous night it was Opera North’s musicians: this time the Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund addressed the audience at the Bridgewater Hall to explain that it would be dedicated to the victims of war in Ukraine, and the Hallé gave it a resounding reading, followed by loud applause.

The outstanding performance of the evening came from a Swede, cellist Jakob Koranyi, in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, wisely positioned as the opening event. With the brass well and truly off the leash in the big tutti passages, it made for a dynamically varied and rewarding performance, the soloist able to shrink his role to the merest murmur at times such as the close of the slow movement and towards the end of the finale. A feature of the concerto is the succession of duetting themes for cello with the orchestral wind soloists, and in that respect the Hallé has enviably gifted people in its ranks.

Jokob Koranyi with the Halle Mar 2022 Credit Bill Lam The HalleKoranyi (pictured left) has a beautiful and rich tone (lots of D string soulfulness) ideally suited for the cantabile melodies that fill this work, and Berglund – herself a professional cellist in an earlier existence – made sure that his sound was audible against the full string numbers of the Hallé whenever it needed to be. Tabita Berglund kept the rhythms lively in the opening movement and lilting in the second, and didn’t forget that the orchestral celli have important moments of their own. The return to big orchestral gestures at the close of the whole piece can sometimes appear ham-fisted and jarring: here it did not, but simply affirmative and joyful.

There was a UK premiere to follow: This Too, by the Norwegian saxophonist, jazz band leader and composer known as Mette Henriette (real name Martedatter Rølvåg). It’s a very short piece – about five minutes – and something of an exercise in getting small sounds from a big orchestra, beginning with near-niente violas and harp and adding whispered percussion and breathy noises from the brass. It was written “during the height of the global pandemic” (funny how people talk about this as if it’s over) with the intention, in the composer’s words, of being something real and sincere for that time ... there was a sense of cold and loneliness, I thought, but I’m not sure it went very far beyond that.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra made a real contrast. Written in wartime 1943 by a Hungarian who had fled his homeland (and there are signs of his longing for it in the music, as Tabita Berglund pointed out), it’s a wonderful display piece for musicians on their mettle and was directed with imagination and conviction.

Moments of passion flared up wonderfully in the first movement, with energetic brass playing, and lively articulation from the duetting wind players in the second. The central Elegia was the high point of the whole thing, as intended, with the strings (led by Hannah Perowne) on fine form, and the finale had both thoughtfulness and thrilling helter-skelter as it drove to its conclusion. Tabita Berglund’s conducting style – alert, encouraging and inspiring – seems to bring out exceptional music-making.

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