Hallé. Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. 27 January 2023. 4****. William Ruff



Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

January 27 2023


Review: William Ruff


Passionate commitment brought to two very personal works

The Hallé presented just two works on Friday night – and at first sight they don’t appear to have much in common.  Grieg’s Piano Concerto has long been at the top of the classical pops and it’s not hard to see why:  just about the most dramatic opening of any romantic concerto; a profusion of lush, memorable tunes and plenty of opportunities for the soloist to thrill and dazzle.  On the other hand, Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony is an enigmatic, unsettling work, written by a composer who often had to hide messages inside his music, concealing his true feelings under layers of irony. 

However, the two pieces have at least this in common: they are both intensely personal works that need the total commitment their performers if the audience is to feel the pulse beating beneath the surface.  The Hallé, under their conductor Alpesh Chauhan, certainly didn’t disappoint in their passionate advocacy of both pieces.

Grieg was only 25 when he wrote his concerto and it’s unique amongst his works.  He was a miniaturist by inclination and, although he tinkered with the score almost to the day he died, he never again wrote on such a scale.  The opening descending chordal scale on the piano is one of the most famous passages in classical music (even without the help of André Previn and Morecambe and Wise…) and it gives an exhilarating sense of a young composer flexing his musical muscles. 

The first movement was full of beautiful moments and soloist Elisabeth Brauss wasn’t afraid to linger over its intimate, poetic detail.  Her choice of slow tempi may have revealed unexpected nuances but it also came close to stalling momentum.  However, her virtuosity was never in doubt and she had all the poetry needed for the meltingly tender slow movement.  The finale was especially exciting, dominated by the stomping rhythms of the ‘halling’, a folk dance close to the composer’s heart and one with which Elisabeth and the orchestra whirled their way to a brightly lit conclusion.  The Prokofiev encore which followed came as a delightful bonus.

Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony was unleashed on the world just a few months after the death of his arch-nemesis Josef Stalin and in it the composer seemed intent on creating music not only as abstract art but also as a means of asserting his musical personality after years of severe repression.  The second half of the symphony is full of coded messages: his own musical signature as well as the name ‘Elmira’, a young woman who had become his muse. 

You don’t need to know this, of course, to appreciate the purely musical intensity of the piece.  The second movement showed the Hallé at their virtuosic best: just four minutes long, one of the wildest, most violent outbursts ever written for orchestra and sometimes thought to be a portrait of Stalin himself.  Elsewhere in this performance it was the extreme contrasts which really impressed: dark gloom followed by almost manic glee. 

The finale summed up all the fear and frustration of surviving one of the world’s most oppressive regimes: the opening bars in which sunlight never quite penetrates the darkness – and then the gradual sweeping aside of the mood of strangled self-assertion until those closing moments when Shostakovich seems to be shouting his own name as one who has emerged whole, even if he bears deep emotional scars.  This is music in which half measures can never be sufficient.  Luckily Alpesh Chauhan and the Hallé were happy to give their all.


Alpesh Chauhan         conductor
Elisabeth Brauss          piano

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection