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One concert combining two inspirational pieces of music; Orchestra of Opera North at Huddersfield Town Hall.

Byline: Review by William Marshall

THE concert pairing of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta with Mahler's Symphony No 4 might not have any very obvious thematic link.

But it proved to be an inspired piece of programming because we heard two superb examples of the infinitely variable resource that the symphony orchestra had become for the innovative composers of the earlier 20th century.

The Mahler symphony, which occupied the second half of this concert by the Orchestra of Opera North, was actually composed for a slightly pared down orchestra (no trombones or tuba). But, needless to say, the composer still takes us on a journey into some fantastical realms of sound.

Distinctive features of the Symphony No 4 include the use of a specially high tuned violin in the second movement, which provides a spiky, unsettling solo obbligato.

The leader of the orchestra, David Greed, toggled between this scordatura instrument and his conventionally tuned violin and made a brilliant contribution to the performance . We also had the Mahlerian device of clarinets and oboes being instructed to raise the bells of their instruments at various places.

The idea is to give us a sudden extra blast of sound, although the device - with its prefiguration of the showbizzy antics of 1940s swing bands - also has a visual dimension that adds to the dense tapestry of popular cultural references that characterise the symphonies of Mahler. The work culminated in a setting for soprano and orchestra of a song entitled The Heavenly Life, a sort of Land of Cockaigne fantasy about the abundance food, music and fun, all served up by the saints in the next life. It is supposedly a child's view of heaven, but the words - in English translation - do come over as a bizarre satire of the consolations of religion and another example of the irony that is such a characteristic of Mahler's music.

The vocalist was Alwyn Mellor, whose Wagnerian power and presence were fully evident.

She might have attempted to sing less affectedly, in a more childlike way, but that would have meant a loss of projection.

The title of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which opened the concert - masterfully conducted throughout by Richard Farnes - might lead us to expect an extrovert work, full of visceral excitement.

In fact, despite a fairly wild, folk dance-influenced final movement, it is rather formal and restrained in conception but it provided some wonderful opportunities not only for the timpanist and the celesta player, but also for the antiphonally arranged strings, who had some very atmospheric passages, not least the work's opening statement , full of foreboding, from the violas.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 7, 2014
Words:440
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