Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
October 7 2022
Review: William Ruff
A night to remember for the Hallé and Nottingham
There was a lot to celebrate at the Royal Concert Hall on Friday night. Not just the first concert of the new classical music season but a notable landmark too: 20 years since the Hallé became the venue’s resident orchestra. Concert manager Neil Bennison summed up this remarkable achievement in a welcoming speech before presenting conductor Sir Mark Elder with a glass sculpture by local artist Ingrid Pears. Sir Mark’s reply paid tribute to Nottingham’s commitment to live music-making. Inspiration is clearly a two-way process.
So emotions were running high even before Sir Mark took to the podium to conduct Smetana’s Vltava, his tone poem depicting the course of a river that starts as a tiny spring and ends up flowing majestically through Prague after encountering wedding celebrations, water nymphs, hunting parties and ancient castles. The Hallé’s native Manchester may be a long way from the Czech Republic, but their playing had all the local colour you could wish for, the folk-like wedding music in particular given the sort of rhythmic lift evocative of rustic merry-making in national dress.
Pavel Kolesnikov was the soloist in Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, one of the composer’s finest compositions and one of the most difficult concertos in the repertoire. Apart from silently singing along to himself throughout the piece, Kolesnikov didn’t waste energy in any unnecessary histrionics. Instead he channelled all his energy into his ten remarkable fingers, throwing fistfuls of notes towards the audience with apparent ease. He didn’t try to overplay the simple, almost innocent, statement of the first theme, allowing the modest opening to grow organically before unleashing music of overwhelming power and energy. After a gloriously melancholy and passionate slow movement came the dazzling finale, culminating in one of Rachmaninov’s seemingly never-ending tunes that ends with a mighty blaze of glory. Kolesnikov didn’t put a foot (or a finger) wrong – and the audience loved it.
In the second half came a huge work by Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben. It’s a tone poem about the life of an heroic artist whose genius has to contend with horrible people like stupid music critics who can’t recognise a good thing when they hear it. On Friday night there was a large screen suspended above the stage, used before the concert for celebrating the Hallé’s achievements, but which also came in very handy for guiding the audience through the sections of Strauss’s musical autobiography. Much of the music is about conflict: Strauss versus his detractors. But at its centre is the composer’s relationship with his wife Pauline, a woman famous for her unpredictability. In the score she is represented by a solo violin, played magnificently on Friday by the Hallé’s new Leader, Roberto Ruisi.
This virtuoso role was matched by very fine playing from all sections of one of the largest teams that the Hallé has ever fielded in Nottingham (no fewer than 9 horns and everything else in proportion). The sound they produced was as thrilling as it was refined. The final caption on the big screen was to thank Sir Mark and the Hallé for what they have already given to Nottingham and to wish them well for the next 20 years. No one present would have disagreed.
Sir Mark Elder, conductor
Pavel Kolesnikov, piano