Hallé Orchestra/Andrew Manze/ Francesco Piemontesi – review

Cheltenham Town Hall
The Hallé strings carried emotional power, while conductor Andrew Manze brought a glorious paean to an abrupt end

Conductor Andrew Manze's concert with the Hallé Orchestra at Cheltenham Town Hall was conceived as a glorious paean to C major, culminating in Sibelius's Symphony No 7.

Opening the programme was Beethoven's overture Leonore No 3, incisively done, with the offstage trumpet spelling rescue and symbolic of liberty. A distinctly Beethovenian thrust also emerged in Manze and his soloist Francesco Piemontesi's approach to the Mozart Piano Concerto No 21, K467, which followed. Tempi were brisk and wholly unsentimental. An overly liberal use of the sustain pedal sometimes countered Piemontesi's bright, fluently articulated sound, so it was the vigour of the finale, Allegro vivace assai, that put the most convincingly vibrant stamp on proceedings. Yet Piemontesi's encore, Debussy's Minstrels from his first book of preludes, very wittily executed, afforded the greater sense of the pianist's musical personality.

The Town Hall is not the easiest place to bring off Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. With the second small-string choir ranged on the highest steps, stage right and just below the organ, the antiphonal effects were clearly visible, and the solo lines of the string quartet were also expressively voiced, but it was the full weight of the Hallé strings that carried the most emotional power.

It was Vaughan Williams who suggested that only Sibelius could make C major sound completely fresh and, while pointing up the Englishman's admiration and affinity for his Finish contemporary, the latter's Symphony No 7 also became the logical fulfilment of the trajectory begun with the Beethoven. Here again, the string sound and brass was richly resonant, but earnest as he was, Manze's handling of Sibelius's organic flow was not as compelling as this single-movement symphony demands. Climactic in volume rather than intensity, it meant that the ultimate resolution on the last C – cut-off anyway just as it arrives – seemed more than usually abrupt.

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Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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