Hallé Christmas Concert
December 17 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Not just festive favourites but more substantial fare too
The Hallé Christmas Concert is always the same and always different. In fact, it’s a bit like the boxes of crackers which the top West End stores offer: familiar ribbons and bows on the outside but goodies like silver hip flasks and rose gold bullet pens inside (a snip at £115 for 6…). You see, the Hallé doesn’t just do the popular yuletide favourites, there is always something to get your teeth into.
Such as Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé suite, music for a satirical film about how the Tsar has to be convinced that a totally imaginary soldier actually exists. The Hallé relished the music’s tunefulness and bright orchestral colours, especially its famous Troika (aka Sleigh Ride). Conductor Stephen Bell drew sharp solos and exuberant ensembles from his players.
Another musically interesting piece was the overture to Hansel and Gretel by Englebert Humperdinck (the 19th century one). It ushers in a story of boy, girl, gingerbread house and wicked witch. Under its fairytale surface lie issues such as poverty, deprivation and punishment – but its music sparkles and the Hallé made sure that its overture captured both its light and its shadows.
There was plenty of orchestral fizz on the menu: Rimsky’s Dance of the Tumblers, a Strauss waltz and polka, Korngold’s Snowman overture and Anderson’s effervescent Bugler’s Holiday (with top-form Hallé trumpeters). And Hucknall lad Eric Coates was represented by his bright and breezy Knightsbridge March.
The star vocalist this year was soprano Jennifer France who took everything in her stylish stride, whether it was Mozart, Puccini, Handel arias…or leading singalong versions of White Christmas and other songs well-known for bringing a nostalgic lump to the throat.
But not to mine, alas. You really need a sweeter tooth than I can muster. But if you’re into Christmas-wrapped, marzipan-coated treats (accompanied by Stephen Bell’s choice of cracker jokes), then this annual Hallé concert is for you.
Hallé conducted by Stephen Bell with Jennifer France soprano