Back in safer waters for the Hallé's second engagement of the year in the Sheffield International Concert Season, guest conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens brought some much needed energy to certified staples of classical music.
This notwithstanding, proceedings began heartily with Wagner's Rienzi Overture – the opera itself has never been performed among the master's operas at Bayreuth. The Overture certainly enjoys more success as a standalone piece.
The Hallé played it decently; the brass and the wind have quite a substantial role and it was an early opportunity for them to display their brilliance.
The star attraction, Jennifer Pike, joined the orchestra for Bruch's First Violin Concerto, a fine piece that is in no way inferior to other offerings in the genre of the 19th century; rather it is an unjust victim of snobbery that fails to see the piece's musical merits.
The orchestra gave Pike plenty of room to showcase her prodigious ability; however, she did seem to be in a bit of a rush in the first movement – always slightly ahead of the orchestra who gamely followed her along.
Things settled for the Adagio and she played fluently here, before switching up a gear or two for the finale, Pike finding no difficulty in meeting the requirements of this rather difficult movement, which she delivered with finesse and expression.
Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony was really rather faultless, Steffens at times offering a reminder of conductor-showmen of old; bopping and jiving on the podium during the quicker movements and ducking and swaying in the slower ones.
It was a great display, and I daresay it inspired the orchestra who were responsive to him at every step. The audience, hungry for more, was well satisfied by The Marriage of Figaro Overture as an encore.