Concert Review: The Hallé Sir Mark Elder review

Words: Ian C Douglas
Saturday 18 May 2024
reading time: min, words

Ian C Douglas went to see the Hallé conducted by Sir Mark Elder at the Royal Concert Hall...

Stephen Hough Web Hero Image 1600X600

The Hallé Orchestra’s trips to Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall have become a staple of the season. They are as popular here as they are in their hometown of Manchester, and tonight’s auditorium was packed.

Something of a mixed bag, this evening. The first half was given over to Brahm’s First Piano Concerto. The pianist in question was Sir Steven Hough CBE. A highly successful musician with a CV studded with accomplishments, Sir Steven is also a painter, a teacher and a writer. A convert to Roman Catholicism, he has written about the conflict between his faith and his feelings as a gay man. He has even blogged for the Daily Telegraph.

So, perhaps, a man of intense intellect, which he brought to his performance tonight. It would be superfluous to say it was beyond note perfect and the audience greatly enjoyed it. So rapturous was the applause, that Sir Steven kindly gave an unexpected encore, with one of Chopin’s piano pieces: Nocturne op 9 No.2. 

one of the saddest compositions to come from a British composer

After the intermission, the Hallé steered in a different direction, with George Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad. Conductor Sir Mark Elder CBE thoughtfully gave some backstory for those among the concertgoers who were not clued into Butterworth’s career. A great English composer who died, aged 31, at the Battle of the Somme, shot through the head by an enemy sniper. Like so many of that generation, cut down like the lilies in the field, we can only speculate what orchestral greatness he would have created, had he lived longer.

Sadly, very little of his work survives, in fact Butterworth destroyed a lot of it before marching off to the Front, convinced it was not good enough. But tonight’s offering, inspired by A. E. Housman’s legendary poems of the same name, was superb enough to give insight into his great talent. Sir Mark Elder described it was one of the saddest compositions to come from a British composer. Indeed, it was hauntingly funereal. A mournful hymn in honour of a lost generation, to the farmlands that raised them, to an entire society now long gone. And even though Butterworth wrote it before the Great War, it heralds the heartbreak to come.

Finally, the Hallé treated us to Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Undoubtedly the best-known composition on tonight’s programme, it roused the audience to a peak of musical delight, ready to go out onto the streets of Nottingham and do battle with taxis and buses and any other challenge we encountered on the way home. What would life be like without these enchanting evenings at the Concert Hall?

The Hallé-Sir Mark Elder played at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall on Friday May 17th 2024.  


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