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MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Orchestra of Opera North: Shostakovich and Bartok – Huddersfield Town Hall

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Conductor: Antony Hermus

The latest concert in the Kirklees Town Halls concert season was always supposed to be commemorative. Poignantly and ironically, as General Director of Opera North Richard Mantle pointed out in an opening speech, it had become even more so, with, coincidentally, its first half dedicated to Russian music. A brass quintet played the Ukrainian national anthem to make it clear where Opera North’s sympathies lie and we were ready to start.

The other reason why it was commemorative was the departure of David Greed after 44 years as leader of the orchestra. For a farewell he had chosen Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a remarkable work with two slow movements, each one followed by a manic quick movement, with a terrifying cadenza between the third movement (Passacaglia) and the fourth (Burlesque).

Greed coped admirably with the cadenza, as with all the technical challenges of the work which gives the violin almost no time to rest or regroup. The opening Nocturne, mainly for strings, sees the solo violin elaborating on a single phrase, with the bassoon establishing a sort of partnership with the soloist. The role for the bassoon is there throughout the concerto which runs through a sardonic Scherzo and a solemn Passacaglia before reaching the cadenza – and after that there’s only the Burlesque, wildly aggressive in its resolution of what has gone before.

David Greed gave an assured reading of the concerto, aided by Antony Hermus’ intense musicality with the orchestral support, and the cheers and applause of audience and orchestra at the end were a suitable tribute to nearly half a century of remarkable service.

The remainder of the concert consisted of one very well-known piece and one rarity, plus the most successful foray so far in the series of Minute Masterpieces: Adam Walters’ Samskara, a telling mix of Trinidadian rhythms and modern Western harmonies given an exciting performance by Hermus.

Hermus’ commitment shone through his treatment of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, a work that features solo elements in the orchestra such as the bassoons (again) and the flutes in a setting that seldom loses its motor rhythms. The fourth movement (Intermezzo interrotto) gave Bartok’s sense of humour an unexpected airing and the finale, especially the extended coda, brought the piece to a brilliant conclusion, much to Hermus’ evident delight!

And, as for the rarity, the concert began with Galina Ustvolskaya’s Symphonic Poem No. 2 (Hero’s Exploit). Dating from 1957, this is a work that embraces the “social realism” doctrine, but is still hugely dramatic today. Composed in short episodes which often alternate between wonderful explosions of sound which seemed to threaten the building and quietly intense passages, it made the perfect start to a remarkable concert.

Reviewed on February 27th  2022

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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