Orchestra of Opera North – Huddersfield Town Hall
By Ron Simpson
**** (Four stars)
The last time Garry Walker stood in front of the Orchestra of Opera North was in June for the company’s triumphant concert performances of Billy Budd at the Aldeburgh Festival, writes Ron Simpson.
This concert, oddly titled Exotic Homelands, didn’t have quite that impact, but it was shrewdly programmed and built to an electrifying climax.
The Christmas trees were out in force on the stage at Huddersfield Town Hall, but we’re not quite at the orchestra’s Christmas celebrations yet: these arrive in the second week of December with The Snowman at Huddersfield and the usual festive concert at Dewsbury.
However, Britten’s Soirees musicales launched the evening in a jolly party mood. The opening movement of these youthful arrangements of Rossini miniatures set the tone – a perky march introduced by solo clarinet, later taken up by assorted solo instruments, including xylophone. The five movements featured solo instruments and sections in turn with plenty of colourful percussion and the orchestra had fun, not least with a yodelling Tirolese.
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 is nicknamed the Turkish on the strength of a few passages of the fashionable Janissary music in the third movement, but in terms of the impact at this concert it seemed an appropriate label. Acclaimed young American violinist Elena Urioste played with immense style, negotiating extended cadenzas with poise and precision while giving a chamber music feel to the work.
Garry kept the orchestra in check, except for some slightly intrusive horn passages in the first movement. Both soloist and orchestra raised their game in the final movement where, remarkably, Mozart achieved the Turkish effects without percussion instruments. Urioste commanded the elegance of the rondo minuet and the sprightly variations while the cellos and basses used the wood of their bows to echo the percussive effects Mozart achieved with larger forces in The Abduction from the Seraglio.
The great German conductor Hans Richter described Elgar’s First Symphony as “the greatest symphony of modern times” (1908) and, played with the thrilling virtuosity of this performance, one can understand why.
After opening in Elgar’s more majestic vein, it is characterised by dynamic contrasts from intense drama to lyricism before ending in a blazing orchestral tutti with an orchestral soundscape enhanced by two harps, bass clarinet, contra-bassoon and piccolo, plus large and fully employed brass and percussion sections.
With Garry Walker securing fearless playing from the Orchestra of Opera North, this proved a thrilling climax.