ConcertMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

BBC Philharmonic: Schubert, Strauss & Brahms – Huddersfield Town Hall

Conductor: Juanjo Mena
Soloist (horn): Alberto Menendez Escribano
Reviewer: Ron Simpson


The Orchestra of Opera North’s 2015-2016 Kirklees concert season came to an early finish with a solid programme of 19th Century Austro-German classics in the capable hands of the guest orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic. The Spring concert season has been curtailed because the next few months see the company and the orchestra occupied with Music Director Richard Farnes’ farewell performances of the Ring Cycle, but coincidentally Huddersfield Town Hall has been forced to close for four months for repairs to the roof.

The highlight of the evening was Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1, an astonishingly accomplished work for a teenage student, with the composer showing a well-developed sense of structure through three linked movements, plus the idiomatic awareness of the instrument’s capacity that might be expected of the son of the principal horn with the Munich Court Opera. The soloist came from the ranks of the BBC Philharmonic; Principal Horn Alberto Menendez Escribano gave an outstanding performance, from the aggression of the opening to some beautifully lyrical playing in the second movementto the boisterously agile hunting horn theme of the final movement.

Under the BBC Phil’s Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena, the concert began and ended with two symphonies from opposite ends of the 19th century: Schubert’s 6th and Brahms’ 3rd – and a very interesting comparison they made. Apart from the fact that Schubert’s is a youthful work, begun at the age of 20, and Brahms famously avoided the symphonic form until he was a mature composer, they reveal the changes and developments in the 19thCentury symphony.

Though there is no great difference in length, the scale of the Brahms is decidedly greater, both in orchestral forces and in the intensity of the musical argument, certainly in the outer movements. The Schubert was a melodic delight, with the BBC Phil’s woodwind seizing the opportunity to shine in the first two movements. Mena’s reading of the symphony was suitably relaxed and easy-going, at least until the rather more urgent closing pages. The only mystery lay in the programme note which came dangerously close to condemning the music for being fun and traduced Rossini who hadn’t even written it!

The opening and closing movements of the Brahms symphony are full of contrasts, wide-ranging development, fiery climaxes and subdued conclusions – all within a fairly limited time scale – and Mena’s reading was concentrated and controlled. The central movements are simpler and more lyrical, Rebecca Hill offering more evidence of the excellence of the orchestra’s horn section in her playing of the third movement’s beautiful horn solo.

In terms of the concert season itself, the evening brought the best of news. The season, previously in danger because of financial cuts, will resume in the Autumn – by which time Opera North will have a new Music Director, Aleksandar Markovic.

Reviewed on 4 March 2016 | Image: Contributed

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