April 6 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Mullova’s masterful Sibelius and some Technicolor French showpieces
Parents aren’t always right. The father of French composer Hector Berlioz wanted his son to be a doctor. If he’d been an obedient son, we wouldn’t now be marking the 150th anniversary of the death of one of classical music’s most original voices, a man who changed the sound of the symphony orchestra.
Hallé conductor Sir Mark Elder introduced the audience to Berlioz’s life and times in talks before and during Saturday’s concert before the orchestra played the composer’s first major work, the overture to an unfinished opera called Les Francs Juges. It must be one of classical music’s most remarkable debuts, taking the orchestra in all sorts of new directions and introducing a broad range of Technicolor sound effects, including the nowadays rare brass instrument the ophicleide. The Hallé squeezed every ounce of drama from music which moved from sombre darkness to dazzling, frenzied light whilst keeping both performers and audience on the edge of their seats.
The atmosphere created by Viktoria Mullova, the soloist in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, couldn’t have been more different. Against a background of shimmering strings Mullova’s violin sang its heart out with an opening melody that seemed to express all the untainted, snow-covered beauty of Finnish landscapes. Her way with the second movement was sumptuous without ever being sentimental; and her virtuosity in the finale was as dazzling as her lyrical playing was sensitive.
Back to French music in the second half. Debussy’s Nocturnes are three impressionist paintings in sound. Sir Mark and the Hallé captured the gently fluctuating world of Nuages, the swirling rhythms and colours of Fêtes and the mysterious song of the Sirènes (evoked with the help of the skilful Hallé Youth Choir).
Ravel’s La Valse (glittering and nightmarish by turns) brought this unusually exploratory programme to an ominously spectacular conclusion.
The Hallé conducted by Sir Mark Elder with Viktoria Mullova (violin)