Tonight’s concert featured three orchestral works, each a reflection of the composer’s homeland. Britten’s ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes: A Time There Was’ is playful and charming; a perfect concert opener. Similarly, Stravinsky draws on the folk music of his native Russia, in ‘Petrushka’. Sandwiched between these two pieces was Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. Although not based on Finnish folk music, the work possesses a distinctive Nordic quality, often brooding and melancholic.
The Hallé approached the first movement of the Britten with a light, bouncy feel, perhaps not as “fast and rough” as the composer intended. The second movement was more convincing; the strings exploring Britten’s sumptuous harmony with a rich, full sound. The third movement, curiously titled ‘Hankin Booby’, was the highlight of the suite. The wind section was particularly effective here, imitating medieval instruments, evoking some nightmarish village fête. ‘Hunt the Squirrel’, fast and technically demanding, was performed with vigour and humour. The final movement, ‘Lord Melbourne’ was sombre; a reminder the suite was completed while Britten was mortally ill.
Henning Kraggerud was the soloist for the Sibelius. His tone was beautifully sweet and bird-like at the beginning, powerfully emotive throughout the adagio, and raucously bouncy during the fireworks of the finale. The orchestra was, perhaps, a little too considerate at times: giving too much space to Kraggerud, and sacrificing the colour of Sibelius’ orchestration.
The Hallé’s performance of ‘Petrushka’ demonstrated conductor Andrew Gourlay’s attention to detail; the orchestra captured the detail of Stravinsky’s intricate work with remarkable clarity and accuracy. It really was a brilliant performance, energetic and lively, full of colour. A great way to end a thoroughly enjoyable concert.