I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to the Bridgewater Hall last night to see the Halle Orchestra perform a wonderful programme.
They started with Bedrich Smetana's (1824-1884) 'Polka and Overture' from The Bartered Bride.
This is probably one of Smetana's best known operas, full of humour, which doesn't reflect any of the tragic circumstances which occurred during his troubled life.
The high-spirited Polka, danced by the villagers in Act 1 of the opera, depicts the mass merrymaking of Bohemian village life as Smetana would himself have experienced during his childhood.
The incredible energy of the string section was inspiring and the power of an exceptional orchestra never ceases to amaze me.
The Overture, to quote the programme notes, "Opens with a breathtaking whirl of rustic exuberance, which subsides into a chattering murmur suggestive of idle village gossip. A sudden crescendo then leads into a second, more dance-like theme ... towards the end Smetana introduces a more reflective theme but this is soon swept away by a final burst of madcap vitality."
Mark Elder showed complete mastery of the orchestra, bringing out the best of each section, with a fantastic performance.
Next, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Five Songs to poems by Fredrich Ruckert.
Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly joined the stage to give an exquisite performance.
I have only recently come to appreciate the soprano voice, and this was such a moving interpretation which held audience spellbound.
Sarah Conolly's stage presence was enhanced by her beautiful white dress, which Elder later told me, reminded him of a Greek Goddess!
The five songs:
1) Um Mitternacht (At midnight)
2) Liebst du um Schonheit (If you love for beauty)
3) Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (Do not spy on my songs)
4) Ict atmet' einen linden Duft (I breathed a gentle scent)
5) Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world)
were sung out of order, which allowed for much discussion in the interval, and an apology from Elder at the beginning of the second half for forgetting to mention it!
All was forgiven as the delicate orchestral texture left the audience entranced.
After the interval, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), Symphony No.6 in D major, op.60.
As Dvorak's Sixth Symphony was commissioned by the one-time Halle conductor, Hans Richter, it seemed appropriate to hear it for the first time in this setting.
The Symphony exhibits the musical influences of his friend Brahms and he would have been proud to have composed this piece himself I am sure.
The four movements:
Allegro non tanto
Finale: Allegro con spirito
were all conducted from memory by Mark Elder. His obvious enthusiasm of the piece was captured and brought to life via the conduit of the orchestra.
I often find it difficult to follow a conductor, but not so in this case, Elder's clear conducting and precision timing brought the best out of the Halle.
I had attended the concert with a small group of players from a local youth orchestra, and we were lucky enough to go back stage and have refreshments with Mark Elder, after the performance.
I was very impressed with his genuine delight at seeing these impressionable young performers and the interest he showed to each of them and their chosen instrument.
This is just the sort of exercise that all orchestras should undertake to nurture our young people into the fantastic world of classical music, and, one in which I have discussed many times on this blog.
Elder chatted happily in a relaxed manner, took many questions from the group, and gave thoughtful answers. He was very enthusiastic when one young man admitted that it was his first time at an orchestral concert, and Elder was delighted to have been such an inspiration to him.
The topic of applause, during or between movements, was raised. This is a controversial area, but Elder had no hesitation in voicing his opinion.
"Never be afraid to show your emotion, applaud when you feel like you want to", was the general consensus.
Elder pointed out that Dvorak would have been most upset if people didn't applaud between movements and that the modern day approach is certainly not one that Elder advocates. He likes to know that the audience are enjoying themselves and the feedback is good for both him and his orchestra. (Haven't I said this so many times...)
I also discovered that Elder loves the classical guitar and he asked about the various nail problems that guitarists are doomed to endure.
Now I know he likes the guitar, maybe I should send him a couple of Robin's concerti...After all, the Liverpool Philharmonic have played one, maybe it's now time for the Halle.
As for Robin, I'm afraid he missed it all - he was at home looking after the children!
'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman