Title: Orchestra of Opera North
Venue: Huddersfield Town Hall
Review: William Marshall
BOTH halves of the opening concert in the new Town Hall orchestral season were greeted with rapturous and sustained applause.
But it would be quite difficult to devise a greater contrast between their musical content – from fiery Italian 19th century romanticism to icy Soviet irony.
The second half was devoted to the Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich, with its sub-text of life and death in Stalinist Russia and its hammer blows of repeated notes at the finale creating a conclusion which manages to be both uplifting and sinister.
The audience rightly chose to be uplifted by a terrific performance from the Orchestra of Opera North, under the baton of Daniele Rustioni, a conductor of the school whose eloquent body language reflected every nuance of the music.
But his podium histrionics did not prevent discipline and detail being evident throughout the concert.
Shostakovich’s orchestral music often reaches heights of beauty, but 20th Century dystopianism is never too far away. The principal work of the concert’s first half, therefore, was a complete contrast.
Or was it? The central movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 1 is said to be a meditation on an unjustly imprisoned actor, so maybe there was a thread to the plight of Shostakovich, who is said to have kept a packed suitcase by his door at all times in case the secret police came calling.
But Paganini, of course, is all about exultant virtuosity and the dawn of romanticism. He is still a byword for fiendish technical difficulty on the violin and at the Town Hall we had a young Italian soloist, Francesca Dego, who was equal to all the demands placed on her, from multiple stops to left-hand pizzicato and elaborate ricochet bowings.
Most importantly, her tone was rich and beautiful at all times.
The audience rose to her artistry and technical command and the sustained applause led to two encores of unaccompanied music by Paganini. The first was perhaps his most famous work, the 24th of his Caprices, with a famous theme later rhapsodised on by Rachmaninov (and by Andrew Lloyd-Webber).
This short, concentrated piece had all the virtuosity of the three-movement concerto that preceded it and actually made just as much – maybe even more – musical impact.