Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
There are two particular kinds of deep-throated roar that can only be heard in Manchester. The first is at Old Trafford when United score; the second is the one emitted by a full house at the Bridgewater Hall when the Hallé hits the kind of form it has found for its increasingly triumphant Beethoven cycle. The visceral, dance-like propulsion of the Seventh may seem to render it the least philosophical of the symphonies; and Mark Elder unleashed a whirl of rhythmic energy that largely bypassed the reasoning faculties in a direct appeal to the feet. The exception was the stately handling of the second movement, now popularly known as the music from The King's Speech, which unfolded with a rhetorical elegance whose gravity never threatened to become gravid.
Bartók's second Violin Concerto was written at a time when fascism threatened to engulf the composer's homeland, yet he somehow managed to transmute his anxieties into an optimistic-sounding work. The outstanding young soloist Nikolaj Znaider was brilliantly alert to the concerto's grand symmetry, in which the final movement spins exuberant variations on material from the first. But he also played, where appropriate, with the gutsy, right arm attack of a gypsy fiddler. Znaider's next engagement with the Hallé is on the podium in May, conducting the Ninth Symphony at the climax of the Beethoven cycle. It promises to be an unmissable occasion. Elder prefaced a performance of Sibelius's The Bard with a heartfelt tribute to the distinguished Sibelian and sometime Hallé guest conductor Paavo Berglund, who died last month. The brief, austere tone poem concluded with a sustained blaze of trombones intended to evoke the slow burning of pagan funeral pyres. What more appropriate honour to accord a great Finnish artist who contributed more than anyone to the understanding of his countryman's music?
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