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The Hallé, September 2023 review

It is always a pleasure to welcome a world-class symphony orchestra to Kendal and how fortunate we were on Saturday, 30th September 2023 to hear the Hallé under the direction of the fine young conductor Alpesh Chauhan. Already in his thirties, he has gained an international reputation for his work and watching him in action and hearing the orchestra play under his direction one can see why.

            The three works on the programme, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony are all standard works in the orchestral repertoire, which the orchestra must have played many times, but the performances we heard had a freshness about them. Alpesh Chauhan brought new insights into all three works. Through his flamboyant gestures, he made clear what he wanted and the orchestra rewarded him with beautifully nuanced phrasing. Mendelssohn’s overture was full of energy, with the opening melodic line so well shaped by cellos and then violins. The pace slowed for the lovely second main theme, so sensitively played by the clarinets, before the tempo increased to reach an exciting finale.

            The mood changed when pianist Steven Osborne stepped onto the stage to play the Shostakovich concerto. This is a work charged with energy, and energy this performance certainly had! Watching him play this hugely technically demanding work one could not fail to admire his brilliance as his hands moved swiftly up and down the keyboard. This is a very percussive work with many heavy chords and the power he produced from the piano was amazing. But there were moments of extreme tenderness in the lovely slow movement; the pianissimo level in both piano and the strings was at times scarcely audible. The rhythmic precision of the orchestra was another impressive feature of this performance. Such was the enthusiasm that Steven Osborne came back onto the stage to give us an encore. He is well-known for his interest in jazz as well as classical music and delighted us with a jazz improvisation.

            Tchaikovsky’s highly charged Fifth Symphony had many impressive moments. The famous horn solo, for example, was one, and it was played so beautifully by the orchestra’s principal horn. The full power of the orchestra was released in the climax to the last movement as the brass section sounded out the motto theme so triumphantly.

            These performances will no doubt stand out in the memory of all present at this opening concert of the new season. We look forward to the next concert to be given by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Chorus on 21st October.

Clive Walkley

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