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MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony – Huddersfield Town Hall

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Conductor: Valentina Peleggi

For a final Huddersfield concert before moving into seasonal mode, the Orchestra of Opera North fielded two exciting talents in their first appearances with the orchestra: conductor Valentina Peleggi and one of the remarkable Kanneh-Mason family, pianist Isata. Both excelled in a nicely varied programme.

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is the first of his dramatic heart-on-his-sleeve symphonies. The long first movement offers sporadic relief from the recurrence of its mighty “Fate” fanfare in a charming melody featuring the woodwind, initially played on clarinet, recapitulated on bassoon. Peleggi’s passionately expressive performance drew rock-solid contributions from brass and horns together with delicate touches from the woodwind, Adam Mackenzie’s bassoon outstanding.

After the graceful second movement and witty third, it’s back to the dramatic for the finale, with Peleggi driving the strings under guest leader Roisin Verity Walters into a ferocious finale, but not before the gentler pleasures of the folk song, “In the fields there stood a birch tree”, initially introduced by the woodwind, later transformed into something rather more robust.

Before the interval Isata Kanneh-Mason was perfectly attuned to the playfulness of Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Song, combining technical virtuosity with innocent simplicity. This delightful piece dates, ominously enough, from 1914, but it’s probably being too fanciful to hear the approach of war in the bombastic orchestral opening, all screaming brass and marching cellos and double basses. Then silence and out of it the gentle piano statement of the theme, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” – it’s a lovely comic effect, repeated in the finale, with added bassoon flavouring.

Kanneh-Mason effortlessly took on board the different requirements for the pianist, from accompanying the orchestra in Variation 4 to elaborate variations in Variation 10 as Dohnanyi works his way through traditional forms: the passacaglia, followed by a chorale and – for the finale – an exhilarating fugue. And she made it all sound like fun!

There was enjoyment to be had from both the pieces that introduced each half. Puccini’s Preludio sinfonico, his first published work, is seldom heard in the concert hall, but proved worth a hearing, the serene opening and the restrained finish with plucked strings as typical of mature Puccini as the dramatic climaxes developing from gentle themes.

The newly commissioned Minute Masterpiece to begin the second half was Dominic Veall’s Disordered Quarters, depicting chaotic family life in a manner reminiscent of film music, the woodwind well featured, notably the bassoon (again!).

Reviewed on 1st December 2022.

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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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