Orchestra: The Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor: Aleksandar Markovic
Soloist: Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Kirklees Council’s bold and far-sighted decision to continue its concert season despite financial cutbacks was rewarded with a well-filled Huddersfield Town Hall for the opening concert of the 2016-2017 season. And, the Orchestra of Opera North, under new Music Director Aleksandar Markovic, drew a more than enthusiastic response.
It was a cleverly planned programme, made up of three substantial works. The choice of Alexander Scriabin’s Nuances to launch the new season was challenging, to say the least, but Serbian conductor Markovic, whose major posts pre-Leeds have been in Austria and the Czech Republic, is known as an advocate of the Russian composer. Then to follow were two better known and more popular works, one featuring the talents of an outstanding young soloist, the other giving Markovic the chance to highlight all sections of his orchestra in a hugely dramatic showpiece.
Scriabin died in 1915, convinced his music would change the world, but the lack of response to last year’s centenary suggests that he still remains an outsider in the musical world. The immense forces required for many of his orchestral works mean that the numerically less demanding Nuances, Alexander Nemtin’s orchestrations of some of his piano pieces for a ballet, offers a way onto the concert platform for Scriabin’s music. Development of musical ideas seemed limited, but in Markovic’s authoritative interpretation Scriabin’s sensuous musical language and instant mood creation came through strongly.
Markovic’s interpretation of Serge Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was full of edgy detail from the woodwind-dominated opening onwards, but, colourful as the orchestral playing was, the focus was on young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. His treatment of the rhapsody, technically assured, cool and clear, was never over-sentimental. His sensitive reading of the celebrated 18th variation made its mark and he was alert to changes of mood and atmosphere from the grotesque to the witty, from the mysterious to the romantic, but for the most part resisted overt emotionalism.
Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique is one of those works where the excitement begins simply by watching the musicians form on stage: the nine brass (excluding horns), six percussioninstruments, four bassoons. Berlioz produces remarkable effects by unusual choice of instruments: the superb use of cor anglais, beautifully played by Emily Cockbill, and – more bizarrely – E flat clarinet, splitting the trumpets between two cornets and two trumpets, massing four timpani, led by the excellent Paul Philbert, at one point, deploying two harps for a swirling waltz, etc.
Rising to a tremendous climax in the March to the Scaffold and the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, the performance of the Orchestra of Opera North ensured that the Markovic regime got off to a stirring start in the concert hall. Meanwhile, he is making his presence felt in the opera house with his conducting of Der Rosenkavalier.
Reviewed on 22 September 2016 | Image:Colin Way