Hallé Christmas Concert
December 18 2018
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Many old favourites but plenty of surprises too in the Hallé’s Christmas Concert
Take one orchestra from Manchester, give them lots of Santa hats and what do you get? Yes, Jose Mourinho jokes from conductor Stephen Bell. But not at first, of course. This year’s Hallé Christmas Concert kicked off with the jolly Merrymakers Overture by Hucknall-born Eric Coates. But just seconds into the conductor’s welcoming chat to the audience we were into football references and a concert of two halves.
Opera and ballet in the first half. This meant a sprightly, gossamer-light Nutcracker overture and an extended selection from Prokofiev’s spikily toothsome Cinderella, a ballet with all the colour and flavour of the festive season but with reduced sugar content. A top form Hallé ensured that the Waltz had an epic, cinematic sweep to it.
Prokofiev’s Troika was included, and very jingly and snowy it was too. And Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze offered a welcome interlude of calm reflection.
Christmas favourites in the second half. One of the highlights was Morton Gould’s arrangement of Jingle Bells, so witty and inventive that it actually made the old chestnut musically interesting with its surprises coming thick and fast, including strings playing with the backs of their bows.
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride was there too, of course, complete with cracking whip and whinnying horse at the end.
Performing in both halves was American tenor Noah Stewart. Judging from the thunderous applause, the audience clearly like the sound he makes rather more than I do. For me he has a voice of two halves, fine at the bottom and in the middle but tone and tuning go awry at the top. And he needed a lot of top notes for the Rossini/Donizetti/Puccini operatic numbers. Still he always sang with a smile in his voice and, like his Hallé colleagues, never stinted on energy.
Hallé conducted by Stephen Bell with tenor Noah Stewart