Chris Christodoulou, photo

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

There was a zest, a good to be alive feeling to the beginning of The Bells, a lifespan piece, although there were shadows, too, as Mark Elder sculptured an engrossing performance of Rachmaninov’s setting of Edgar Allan Poe, as freely translated into Russian by Konstantin Balmont. The preludial first movement enjoyed an ardent tenor, lusty choral singing, and a finely detailed orchestra. Birth leads to wedding bells, spacious and reflective, with an expressive soprano, the crisis of the third movement letting the chorus off the leash, Elder’s tempo aiding clarity without subjugating alarm, demons and despair … but Death is around the corner, which the Finale laments – poignant cor anglais solo – with an intense baritone and haunted choral contributions transfigured into one of Rachmaninov’s most rapturous and transporting closing passages, sublimely shaped and sounded by the Hallé to leave no doubt as to Elder’s depth of relationship with this score and its own with the Human Condition.

Shostakovich Five – music rarely allowed time off – conducted by Elder with objectivity and, during an interview, dismissive of the legends that have become associated with this opus, searched but not sensationalised by the conductor, allowing us to feed off the music any meanings beyond the notes, very well prepared and played – a spacious and deliberate first movement that was pensive and cannily controlled to climax yet avoided hanging fire, followed by a Scherzo that also took measured steps yet was edgy and satiric. Elder addressed the Largo marking of the slow movement without indulging it finding isolation, raging and fear inseparable from the notes, conveyed raptly, and Elder won’t be done for speeding in the Finale’s opening (very little acceleration), dovetailing into the less-frenetic music and patiently building to the coda, which for Sir Mark is “defiant”. He was as good as his word; no State-dictated rejoicing. Rejoice though that the only applause came at the end of both pieces.

Mané Galoyan, soprano
Dmytro Popov, tenor
Andrei Kymach, baritone
BBC Symphony Chorus
Hallé Choir