Conductor: Gary Walker
The Orchestra of Opera North’s first concert in their 2023-24 season at Huddersfield Town Hall was decidedly odd, wonderful and striking, but odd. It seemed a strange choice for the opening concert – end of season or Christmas, maybe – but in fairness your reviewer must record that he enjoyed it immensely. However, too many off-the-wall second halves could alienate the audiences that have been so assiduously cultivated.
The concert began conventionally enough, except that the anticipated closer was, in fact, the opener, Dvorak’s magnificent Symphony Number 9, From the New World. If one reason for planting the symphony last in a programme is that the orchestra is thoroughly warmed up by then, the Opera North band proved this to be a fallacy by a committed dramatic approach to the opening; the melancholy was less in evidence. Gary Walker attacked the symphony with emphatic zeal, making much of the massive tuttis of the final movement. In contrast Catherine Lowe’s cor anglais was heard to beautiful effect in the haunting Largo.
The interval found orchestral assistants scurrying around, clearing a space for Andreas Brantelid, placing the odd amplifier, settling a drum kit into place. The performance of Friedrich Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Band was worth it,, supposedly an example of other musics of America, but, in reality, as Gary Walker admitted, an excuse to have some fun. This work from 1980 is little known, possibly because it’s assumed to be beyond the comprehension of your average audience, but it is glorious entertainment, with some lovely melodies among the crazier elements. The Wind Band is 15 pieces, plus a four-strong rhythm section, including drum kit.
The rock-styled first movement, with Brantelid the next thing to a guitar hero, was fine, but the second movement, Idylle, topped everything: a seductive chorale-like theme giving way to a delightful waltz for the woodwind, with hints of yodelling. Following a cadenza, the fourth movement is a Spanish-tinged minuet, very attractive, but Gulda nailed his colours to the mast of anti-establishmentarianism with the riotous beer garden oomph of the last movement, brass at full tilt, though Walker’s Tyrolean hat and the bottles of beer brought on for the thirsty orchestra seemed an unnecessary indulgence
Then we had more shuffling of music stands before the full orchestra brought out the Dominican character – lots of percussion – of the newly commissioned piece, desfinterrumpidoleby Jose Guillermo Puello, then displayed their Broadway chops on Gershwin’sGirl CrazyOverture, with another gorgeous melody along every minute, and Zequinha Abreu’s infectious Tico Tico, all slurping trombones.
It was a jolly second half, with Gulda’s concerto a real revelation, but it’s probably as well that the next concert is primarily Beethoven.
Reviewed on 21st September 2023.