Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
April 1 2023
Review: William Ruff
Musical insight combined with eco-friendliness
This may well have been the first carbon-neutral performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto that I’ve ever heard. The soloist was Swedish cellist Jakob Koranyi who has made a brave decision for an international musician: never to travel by air until it becomes an environmentally friendly means of transport. Before he played his encore on Saturday night (a gloriously light-as-air performance of the Prelude from Bach’s 1st Cello Suite) he expressed his initial worries about travelling all the way to Nottingham – before applauding the audience for the city’s ambition to be the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2028. He must have zoomed to the top of the list of artists-to-invite-back.
His way with Dvorak was as thoughtful and intense as the above would suggest. The composer himself long had doubts about writing a concerto for cello. The instrument’s range doesn’t allow it to cut through a large symphony orchestra and its voice can sound muted at the back of a large hall. However, from near the front (where I was) Jakob’s subtly nuanced performance was evident throughout. He took the great second melody of the first movement and sang it with passion. The finale isn’t an easy movement to pull off: it starts with march-like determination but includes a profound meditation (inspired by the death of Dvorak’s beloved sister-in-law) just before the upbeat final few bars. Jakob Koranyi reached deep inside these intensely personal moments whilst maintaining impressive control of the architecture of the whole concerto. It’s no wonder the audience took him to their hearts.
And much the same could be said about the Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund, not only a perceptive collaborator in the Dvorak but a hugely energetic interpreter of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony in the concert’s second half. Much of Sibelius’ music must pose a challenge to conductors: his sound world is so distinctive; his sonorities so easily identifiable yet so easy to get wrong; his scattering of musical fragments needing such careful, precise handling. From the outset the audience knew they were in safe hands: the opening horn call that rises and falls, setting the atmosphere that dominates the whole symphony – open-air, evocative of looking up into the distance. The Hallé responded with precision and richness throughout a work in which woodwind, brass, strings, percussion all have to be razor-sharp in their response.
Take just one example from the finale: a gradual acceleration, a sudden pull back, a gentle halt. What is an innocent pizzicato theme becomes suddenly menacing, the pastoral mood threatened by fierce brass chords. Then the moment passes: all is happy again – but not for long. Thunder appears in the timpani and there is a shuddering tremolo in the strings. All this occurs in seconds and it was a mark of Tabita Berglund’s tight control that it all sounded so seamless and so convincing. No wonder she looked exhausted at the end.
The third work on the Hallé’s programme showcased exceptionally refined playing by the string players: Dobrinka Tabakova’s Fantasy Homage to Schubert. Written in 2013, the Fantasy is an 11-minue tone picture which starts in a musical haze out of which (very gradually and subtly) the tremulous opening of Schubert’s Fantasie for violin tentatively emerges, as if in a dream.
It was another testament to the Hallé’s versatility and to conductor Tabita Berglund’s instinctive feeling for evocative musical textures.
Tabita Berglund, conductor
Jakob Koranyi, cello