United Kingdom Mozart, Dvořák, Bruch, Dvořák: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Hallé Orchestra/Rory Macdonald (conductor); Westmorland Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, 25.Feb.2012(MC)
Mozart: Overture The Magic Flute, k.620
Dvořák: Notturno in B major, op. 40 (arranged for strings)
Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, op.26
Dvořák: Symphony No.7 in D minor, op.70
With the tickets selling-out within 10 days, a waiting list of about 80 and numerous daily phone calls for tickets, this Hallé concert must have been one of the hottest tickets in the North of England. I was at the corresponding Kendal Hallé concert last year when music director Sir Mark Elder took the podium. The Hallé are clearly favourites with the wholehearted Westmorland Hall audience and in Sir Mark’s absence Nicola Benedetti the Scottish born winner of the 2004 ‘Young Musician of the Year’ was the main attraction. Taking the baton was up-and-coming conductor Rory Macdonald, a Scot who served for two years as assistant conductor to Sir Mark at the Hallé.
In its rightful context Mozart’s overture to the opera The Magic Flute is an appealing score. But as a stand-alone concert piece there are numerous more substantial alternatives that would have served well as the opening work of the evening. With its origins in an early string quartet Dvořák’s Notturno in B major for strings, used here as somewhat of a makeweight, is an attractive single movement score. The shimmering Hallé strings ensured that the nocturne with its sinuous melody flowing beautifully over a ground bass brought out the dark hued colours of the writing.
My highlight of the evening was Nicola Benedetti’s performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. A warhorse of the repertoire voted audience winner of the Classic FM Hall of Fame on several occasions, Bruch’s G minor inspiration with its memorable and ravishing tunes is certainly a joy to hear. Without making claims to be a performance to live forever in the memory Benedetti, stunningly presented in her dark haute couture gown, was attuned to every nerve and muscle of the score conveying a beautiful restraint in the slow movement. On this showing Benedetti demonstrated that she is up there with the elite group of violin soloists of her generation.
After a welcome breather we reached Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony, a commission the composer received from the celebrated Royal Philharmonic Society, in London. Despite a rather untidy start Rory Macdonald took control and showed his mettle. Everything on the surface – phrasing, intonation and unity – was well managed, yet underneath the Bohemian flavour of the music felt watered down. Most obviously the freshly sprung dance rhythms of the Furiant that characterises the third movement never totally convinced. A satisfying orchestral performance was capped by clarinettist Lynsey Marsh and oboist Stéphane Rancourt taking every opportunity to demonstrate their considerable excellence.
Fellow Scots Nicola Benedetti and Rory Macdonald were in fine form. Benedetti is already well known thanks to her ‘BBC Young Musician’of the Year’ victory; and the assured Macdonald is less well known, but he did a fine job and is certainly a name to watch. I have seen the Hallé several times this season and under the musical direction of Sir Mark Elder they continue to go from strength to strength. The Hallé’s return to Kendal, which I hope is to be an annual event, cannot come soon enough.