ConcertFestive 16/17MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Orchestra of Opera North: Tales Beneath the Stars – Town Hall, Huddersfield

Conductor: Stefan Blunier
Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Tales Beneath the Stars is the first of two concerts in the Orchestra of Opera North’s Kirklees season to transfer to the Spa, Bridlington. The East Coast audience will be treated to a series of dramatic musical narratives with more than a tang of the sea, performed by an orchestra on top form under a charismatic conductor.

tell-us-block_editedConducting the Orchestra of Opera North for the first time, the Swiss conductor Stefan Blunier had clearly built a perfect rapport by the time it came to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with equally impressive solo and section work. To begin with, he seemed to be pressing a bit too hard with Berlioz’ Le Corsaire Overture, setting extreme tempos at the outset, as though to prove the virtuosity of the orchestral playing. With conducting on the frenetic side of expressive, the overture was certainly exciting, with the eight-strong brass team making a major impact, but it was as well that the two major works in the concert received more balanced treatment, though Blunier’s tendency to linger on slow tempos never quite disappeared.

The version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet used by Blunier is an amalgam of the first two concert suites, Suite Number 2 in its entirety and then, because no one wants to miss out on The Death of Tybalt from Suite Number 1, that is added as what the programme, quaintly but accurately, terms an “encore/finale”. Purists would probably object, but it works, the music dying away to a subdued ending after the drama of the lovers’ death, then exploding into the visceral impact of Tybalt’s death and funeral, alternating solemn dignity and almost bluesy brass smears.

With an intense rhythmic power generated by the horns and other instruments as much as by the potent six-piece percussion section, Romeo and Juliet began (Montagues and Capulets, with knightly swaggering) and ended with mighty bursts of sound, but Blunier brought out the contrasts in the central movements, skittish woodwinds for the young Juliet and the delicate wit of Dance of the Girls with Lilies.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphonic Suite, Scheherazade, tells – or, at least, hints at – various stories from The Arabian Nights, stories of princes and princesses, Sinbad the sailor, storms and festivals, all linked by the recurring and changing motif belonging to Scheherazade, the storyteller. Blunier shaped and integrated the music most persuasively, ultimately bringing the most violent of storms down to the gentle serenity of the conclusion.

Fine section work is a given with the Orchestra of Opera North. Here, the excellence of the many solos stand out, most notably the leader David Greed, bringing out all the exotic elegance of Scheherazade’s music, accompanied by Celine Saout’s harp, and the piquant solo bassoon of Adam Mackenzie in The Tale of the Kalendar Prince, the perfect contrast to Richard Hewitt’s gracious oboe.

Runs until 27 November 2016 | Image: Contributed

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