Hallé/Elder – review

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The Sixth is possibly the simplest of Beethoven's symphonies to listen to, yet the most challenging to present. By interpolating a storm into an unusual five-movement structure, Beethoven effectively created the first classical symphony with a rain break; though his compositional notebook included the revealing note to self: "All tone painting in music loses its value if pushed too far."

The drawback of the strict-tempo approach favoured by Riccardo Chailly's recently recorded cycle is that it can make the Sixth's long-breathed lines sound perfunctory. Mark Elder's expansive conducting put some of the air back into the symphony. There were points in his genial approach to the first two movements in which he seemed less concerned with maintaining a beat than taking in the Ozone, yet there was nothing sluggish or old-fashioned about the Hallé's performance. The woodwinds' imitations of birdsong seemed truly a force of nature.

The symphony was paired with a piece by music's most passionate ornithologist, Olivier Messiaen; and though the symphonic meditation L'Ascension comes from a period before the composer began to incorporate birdsong, the free-floating cor anglais and ululating flute of the second movement suggests that he must have had the bucolic texture of Beethoven's Sixth in the back of his mind.

The temptation to cheat in Ravel's Piano Concerto in D for the left hand must be enormous – even the original dedicatee, Paul Wittgenstein, adapted some of the lines to make it simpler to play. Nelson Goerner delivered a thrilling and fastidiously faithful account, generating a richness of tone in which you'd swear there must be 10 fingers at work, despite using his right hand solely for mopping his brow.

Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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