MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Emperor – Huddersfield Town Hall

Orchestra: Orchestra of Opera North

Conductor: Ruth Reinhardt

Soloist: Marc-Andre Hamelin (piano)

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

The first concert of the Orchestra of Opera North’s Kirklees season was titled The Emperor. No wonder – Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, his Piano Concerto No. 5, dominated the evening. The customary arrangement of overture (or other shortish work), concerto and symphony was wisely abandoned in favour of an order that placed Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 before the interval and rounded off the evening with the concerto.

A brilliant performance of the Emperor Concerto brings home how original it is, 210 years old and still full of surprises, right to the end: the piano/timpani duet is only the first of the twists in the coda. And Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, recently heard at the Proms, certainly gave a brilliant performance. After the majestic opening, mighty orchestral chords breaking into an insistent piano cadenza, the orchestra embarked on what the programme modestly termed the “forthright” first subject – “dynamic” would be more appropriate. Hamelin at first provided a subtle commentary before going head to head with some spectacular pianism. And so it went on through the sublime lyricism of the slow movement and – via the lovely anticipatory bridge – into the boisterous final Rondo, with Beethoven’s endless invention complemented by Hamelin’s virtuosity and skill in finding new colours and moods in the music.

And what of the orchestra? We are accustomed to the Orchestra of Opera North bringing commitment and an exciting blend of discipline and risk-taking to its performances – and the young German conductor, Ruth Reinhardt, proved an ideal choice to bring out the dramatic symphonic qualities in the orchestra’s role in the Emperor Concerto. Reinhardt’s roster of U.S. symphony orchestras conducted is huge – a fair few in Europe, too – and this is hardly surprising, given the dynamism of her approach.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 was written seven years after the Emperor Concerto, but seems to belong to an earlier age, with its reduced orchestral forces and lack of conflict. Schubert was 27 years younger than Beethoven, but, except for the third movement being more of a Beethovenian scherzo than a minuet, his Fifth Symphony, like all before Numbers 8 and 9, recalls earlier masters, Haydn and Mozart. Reinhardt’s approach to the opening Allegro was impressive, just a tad brisker than usual and all the better for it, with no loss of detail or classical style. Her ability to create momentum served her well in the good-humoured Haydn-esque Finale; only the song-like Andante became over-emphatic at times.

For an opener we had a 12-minute piece from one of the masters of the Second Viennese School, Anton Webern, not a frequent visitor to Kirklees symphony concerts. His Passacaglia, Opus 1, was his first mature work, stylistically assured, but still, at this time, drawing on older traditions. Growing from single pizzicato notes to a gentle woodwind passage, it made its way through 23 variations on the sparse theme, via at least two tempestuous climaxes, to a gradual stilling of the emotion. The Webern received a fine performance, but the real drama was still to come.  

Reviewed on September 19, 2019 | Image: Contributed 

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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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