Recorded in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, Sir Mark opens this latest Hallé broadcast with a languorous and sultry Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune distinguished by fine playing, the music’s half-lights realised magically, the music blossoming organically.
There follows Stephen Hough in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a scintillating and discriminating account, sparkling and shapely-seductive from the pianist, detailed and accommodating from the orchestra. ‘Variation XVIII’ is treated with dignity, the whole work’s ingenuity placed before speed and showmanship. Hough’s pay-off is especially witty, maybe a snub to the composer’s trademark use of the ‘Dies irae’.
As revealed in the film, it was the Hallé that gave the UK premiere of ‘Pag Rhap’. It was 1935, the conductor was Nikolai Malko, and the soloist was Rachmaninov himself. His fee was £157,10/s.
Huw Watkins (pictured) had great success with his First Symphony, premiered by the Hallé and Elder, if then recorded by Ryan Wigglesworth: https://www.classicalsource.com/cd/huw-watkins-flute-concerto-violin-concerto-symphony-adam-walker-alina-ibragimova-edward-gardner-ryan-wigglesworth-bbc-symphony-orchestra-halle-nmc/. Watkins’s successor Symphony (to a Hallé commission), three movements/half-an-hour, is every bit as good.
Opening in pastoral fashion, beguilingly, the first movement pulses into energetic life to be contrasted with further dawn-like sounds (birdsong), then a return to exuberance. The composer doesn’t stint on orchestration, requiring the Hallé’s brass section (including four trumpets) to be stationed in the choir seats. The middle movement opens in contemplative terms, suggesting a radiant vision, before animated woodwind figures emerge, the deep, string-based, expression giving way to a brief gnarled climax. The Finale is built incrementally in texture and tempo to a dancing and sonorous conclusion. Impressive.