Shakespeare and Shiller; Verdi and Beethoven – Halle/Elder Review

The last time I went to the Bridgewater Hall, I was in my first year of college, which was nearly 5 years ago. Coincidentally, Beethoven was on the programme as well. Rather strangely, now that I look back, I never went back to Bridgewater. Because Elder is on the telly every now and again, so when I first got into classical music, it was his face that I saw in documentaries. He’s also one of Britain’s most prominent conductors, who restored the Halle back to its former glory making it one of the UK’s best orchestras today. So I’m a bit surprised I didn’t go to Manchester. Missed opportunity there.

Beethoven’s 9th symphony is not just my favourite symphony, but my favourite piece of classical music. But before that, opening the concert, were scenes from Verdi’s opera Macbeth, which happens to be one of my favourite Verdi operas. So, all in all, I was pretty psyched.

Elder started by conducting the prelude, and I was nearly in tears about 60 seconds. The orchestra was scaled back a little, with not as many players as you would have for an opera performance. And yet, I was really taken aback by the power they released in the opening. Macbeth’s soliloquy and duet with Lady Macbeth followed from Act 1 (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”), sang by Scott Hendricks and Beatrice Uria-Monzon. This was followed by Macbeth’s last cantabile from Act 4 (“Pieta, rispetto, amore”) and finally, the famous sleepwalking scene by Lady Macbeth (“Yet, here’s a spot”). Both soloists were great, but it was Scott Hendricks that really impressed.

 

Then, the 9th.

 

I cried 3 times during this performance, twice in the first movement. The opening felt like a huge unrelenting thing that would not give up, a constant hammering of Beethoven. I don’t know if that’s what composer intended, but it was exhilarating nonetheless. I remember thinking, “this is why I love Beethoven”. The second and third movements were incredible also. It’s quite incredible how different all four movements are from one another. That realisation is one of the things that really stood out for me.

The choir’s entrance in the final movement was a bit underwhelming to be honest. A feeling of “oh dear” went through my head, but it was replaced with “holy crap I was wrong” just as soon as it appeared. The choir recovered almost immediately and the forceful power of their singing took the performance to the new level Beethoven intended. The soloists were great as well, but it’s the choir that deserves a great chunk of the praise. Hats off to their director Matthew Hamilton.

This wasn’t what you’d call a perfect performance. Bridgewater is really reverberant, which means sometimes the detail can be lost if a performance is too fast. This became a problem for the soloists who were at times just a little drowned out by the orchestra. But I do stress only a little because here I’m nitpicking. I was sitting on the right near the front of the hall, which makes me wonder what people sitting at the back or high up in the galleries thought. Reducing the tempo can lead to some of the drama being lost and everything feeling a bit sluggish.

But, in the end I really didn’t care. The performance was tear jerkingly great and a fabulous start to the Halle’s concert season.  Wonderful stuff and I look forward to coming back soon.

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