Triumph over Tragedy: Orchestra of Opera North – Huddersfield Town Hall


Conductor: Garry Walker

Soloist: Guy Johnston

Triumph over tragedy, like most names associated with symphony concerts, is a bit of an exaggeration, but by no means wholly inappropriate for the situation or program. The return of orchestral music to Huddersfield Town Hall has put the Opera North Orchestra in superb shape under the direction of the company’s new musical director, Garry Walker.

Elgar’s 1919 Cello Concerto is certainly a response to the tragedy of World War I, although the vibe is more often elegiac than triumphant. It has had a strange history: neglected and underestimated for many years, it began to be known to the public with the plea of ​​Pablo Casals and that famous recording of the Pré / Barbirolli in 1965. Now it is almost too familiar and it takes a peak. classifies the live performance to remind us of the contained passion, emotional depth and melodic appeal of the work.

Guy Johnston’s eloquence as a concerto performer was never in doubt from the first melody from another world. At its most expressive in the poignant Adagio, it has lost none of the precision and delicacy of the second movement or the occasional confidence of the finale. The orchestra, discreet but incisive, offered the ideal accompaniment and relished the occasional dramatic climax.

Maybe they were just getting ready for Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony which blew up in the concert hall as it should. This marvelous work miraculously combines obviousness and ambiguity. This march of the last stomping and hammering movement – is it real? That spacious first string melody – is it serene or dark?

In 1937, Shostakovich was in disgrace with the Soviet authorities who sought a little more conformity from their great composers, so he produced what he called “a Soviet artist’s response to fair criticism”, so c. It was really Shostakovich who wrote these words. There are simple melodies (very good simple melodies), but what he does to them is always exciting and often threatening. There is a sort of mechanized rejoicing in the finale, but do the reflective passages undermine it? Is it obedience or satire? Either way, hearing it in the concert hall is a fascinating experience.

Walker expertly guided the orchestra through these powerful crescendos that suddenly grow from muffled strings and then die just as suddenly; the orchestra showed its power as a soloist in the pleasure of the Scherzo; and the brass and percussion beat us into submission in a jaw-dropping final movement.

The concert opened with Benjamin Britten’s last rarely heard orchestral work, the Suite on English Folk Tunes, There was a time. Its neglect is difficult to understand. Although based on ten folk tunes, there is nothing particularly folkloric about the orchestration, except for the charming flute and tabor effect at the start of Crazy about Hankin, and the mood is often surprisingly loud for a composition of a man who knew he would not recover from his heart disease. Only the dying fall of the English horn solo in Lord Melbourne reveals the underlying melancholy.

The feeling of a fresh start after the various lockdowns with a new musical director (an equally new principal guest conductor, Antony Hermus, is leading the next concert) is reinforced by the programming of a short one-minute command by a young composer at each concert. Jay Capperauld’s Deep in their roots prefaced Shostakovich’s symphony, moving from a casual syncope to a developing motor rhythm in its brief duration.

Reviewed on September 23, 2021


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