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Five star stuff from top class players

Orchestra of Opera North shows amazing versatility

The Orchestra of Opera North at Huddersfield Town Hall. Picture by Tom Arber

How about this for evidence of the versatility of the Orchestra of Opera North?

On Wednesday accompanying the agonies of love and death in Cavalleria Rusticana and the bubbling silliness of Trial by Jury, on Thursday kicking off the Kirklees Concert Season with a superb concert of Slav music under the inspiring young conductor Alpesh Chauhan, writes Ron Simpson.

Some conductors go for homogeneity of sound, the orchestral sections blending into a smooth whole. Not so Chauhan who vividly brings out the character of the individual sections. It’s no coincidence that, finally, after calling up particularly impressive soloists, he took each section through its individual bow, even separating First and Second Violins. Nor is Chauhan a man for the safe middle ground: he has no fear of extreme tempos or blazing dynamic contrasts.

Alpesh Chauhan. Picture by Patrick Allen

The concert title From the Old World to the New referred to the main work, Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, From the New World. The problem with this wonderful work is to make it sound fresh: the aura of popular band concerts and television commercials hangs over it. Chauhan responded with a first movement of rare energy and excitement, even tension.

The lyrical quality of the symphony was not lost, however. The famous second movement (later used as the “spiritual” Going Home) had all the yearning beauty you could wish for, with Catherine Lowe’s delicate cor anglais solo. In fact, the whole concert was a taxing and triumphant evening for the woodwind section with precise section work to negotiate at Chauhan’s unforgiving tempos and high quality solo work from all the principals, plus second flute David Moseley.

While savouring its dramatic climaxes, Chauhan shaped the Dvorak symphony with due regard to its structure and, after the last-movement explosions from brass, horns and percussion, he brought it to its always surprising conclusion with a sense of logic and emotional completeness.

The all-Russian first half began with a wake-up call in Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, dazzling as always, here taken at headlong speed. Two pieces by Borodin took us to the interval.

The wonderfully atmospheric In the Steppes of Central Asia shimmered into barely perceptible life, with its two contrasted themes elegantly played by Colin Honour’s clarinet and Robert Ashworth’s horn in one case, Lowe’s cor anglais in the other. The Polovtsian Dances ranged from that lovely tune that became Stranger in Paradise to barbaric themes fit for the court of Khan Konchak.

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