October 15 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
A change of conductor and symphony but no shortage of thrills
First the bad news. The Hallé’s chief conductor (and Nottingham Treasure) Sir Mark Elder is ill so sadly couldn’t be at the helm on Tuesday. This meant ditching Elgar’s 1st Symphony and performing Tchaikovsky’s 4th instead: for some in the audience a case of musical chalk and cheese.
And now the good news. Stand-in conductor Fabien Gabel was both dynamic and perceptive – equally good with the lyrical and soulful as he was with fiery passions. And the even better news was that the soloist in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1, Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes, was not only on top form but, after this first appearance in the city, he is clearly going to be fast-tracked to Treasure status himself. Not only did he play some solo Bach as an encore but he told the audience that the Royal Concert Hall’s reputation amongst his musical friends was sky-high, just about the best venue in the UK. And he was, of course, right.
To start Fabien Gabel conducted a deeply sympathetic performance of Finzi’s The Fall of the Leaf. It is a poignant, pastoral, autumnal piece with haunting themes, powerful climaxes and lovely writing for woodwind in particular. It was first performed by the Hallé in the 1950s – and it seems to have stayed in their bloodstream.
And then James Ehnes took centre-stage, producing a rich, elegant sound, perfect for the Bruch concerto. The outer movements were brilliantly virtuosic and the beautiful slow movement songful, warm-hearted and silkily elegant.
After the interval came Tchaikovsky’s doom-laden 4th Symphony, full of heart-on-sleeve Russian emotion and vivid orchestral colours. Fabien Gabel moulded a fine performance, never letting the psycho-drama run out of control but always keenly expressive in his care with phrasing. The pizzicato scherzo was finely detailed and the finale’s slightly manic revels were kept in tight focus throughout.
Hallé conducted by Fabien Gabel with James Ehnes (violin)