A representation of Till Eulenspiegel

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The concert opened with the Concerto, composed in Paris during the early-1920s for Stravinsky himself to play (Koussevitzky conducted the premiere) and revised thirty years later. Once passed the solemn winds-only introduction (the scoring also includes timpani and basses) the music found Steven Osborne in sparkling form, relishing the rhythmic snap, counterpoint, ensemble-interplay and syncopation of the outer movements – J. S. Bach is present in the mix, and the Hallé woodwinds and brasses were in confident form. The slow middle movement seems related to the chorale of Symphonies of Wind Instruments, then a recent, 1920, tribute to the late Debussy, in which the piano muses, Osborne very sensitive in his touch and privacy.

Then, with the Hallé at full strength, Till Eulenspiegel was off again on his Merry Pranks, Richard Strauss’s cartoon-like tone poem – neatly following the Stravinsky, which ends with a nod and a wink – and in which Mark Elder led a vividly narrated account (with unfortunate horn solos early-on that weren’t alright on the night, if secure later), pointed and affectionate, suggesting that the roughish Till escaped the hangman’s noose and was able to continue being a villain for countless Groundhog Days.

Following the interval, music from Moscow-born/UK-living Elena Langer’s opera Figaro Gets a Divorce (2016), atmospheric and picturesque invention, some pastiche, with precise/brilliant orchestration that includes a suggestive accordion, often delicate and refined, also dramatic and fast-paced, continually engaging, with humour and description, and brought off with panache and sympathy by the Hallé and Elder (although twenty minutes proved just enough).

Finally, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No.8, completing the VW cycle shared between the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé in Bridgewater Hall, the latter ensemble giving the first performance of the Eighth in 1956 conducted by Barbirolli. It’s a concentrated work that breaks the orchestra down in the middle movements (respectively strutting winds, droll here, and eloquent strings in the ‘Cavatina’, full of wonderment on this occasion) with full resources needed for the variations of the first movement (one of the composer’s finest achievements, Elder fully exploring the often-enchanted newness of the writing; transporting) and the spectacular percussion of the triumphant Finale, all bought off with seasoned appreciation by the Hallé and Sir Mark, their own recorded VW cycle about to be signed-off, due for release on June 3, with the Seventh (antartica) and Ninth Symphonies.

There was an extra item, Flourish for Glorious John, written by VW for the Hallé’s centenary, the 1957-58 season, John being Barbirolli. Stirring stuff.


RELEASED TODAY, April 29: Steven Osborne records Rachmaninov (including Sonata #1) for Hyperion.