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Scheherazade – Huddersfield Town Hall

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Conductor: Antony Hermus

After the brief (some six minutes) piece by Unsuk Chin, the stage had to be rearranged for Ravel’s Piano Concerto – a gap of possibly twice the length of the first piece. So Antony Hermus, Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor, grabbed a microphone and, as the piano rumbled into position and music stands were set up around him, gave a detailed account of what to look out for in the programme. It’s this regard for the audience, together with the sheer exuberance of his conducting, that makes a concert with Hermus a memorable experience.

The Orchestra of Opera North’s concerts frequently start with a short contemporary piece, often a commission. So it was, except that Unsuk Chin’s subito con forzais not a commission, but was first performed in Amsterdam in 2020 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Starting with theCoriolanOverture, Chin incorporates various hints of Beethoven’s works in a dynamic piece heavily reliant on percussion and timpani.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto consists of two lively, jazz-influenced outer movements sandwiching an other-worldly central movement. Steven Osborne brought out the delicacy of this second movement whilst his interest in jazz animated the first and third movements. The orchestra, too, supported him admirably in all the unconventional features: wood-blocks, slapstick, trombone smears. Somewhere in the first movement one could hear a hint of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blueand the writing for bassoons in the last movement equalled the piano in flamboyance. Ravel’s expressed aim to produce an entertaining concerto was fully justified in this joyous performance.

After the interval Hermus pulled out all the stops for Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever-popular Scheherazade.Based on the legend of Sultan Schariar in the Arabian Nights, the piece consists of four of the tales Scheherazade told to keep herself alive. A recurrent theme is the sea, but Rimsky-Korsakov employed colourful orchestration and recurring themes to add to the mystery of the East.

The most important of these themes is the evocative violin piece representing Sceherazade herself, here beautifully and atmospherically played by Guest Leader Jan Schmolk. The orchestra brought out the drama and exotic charms of the piece, even if occasionally the uninhibited nature of the attack meant that it was a somewhat less polished performance than the Ravel.

Reviewed on 25th February 2024

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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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