United Kingdom Brahms, Sibelius: Sunwook Kim (piano), Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder (conductor); Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23.9.2012
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1878/81)
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (1901/02, rev. 1903)
Only twenty years separate these works by Brahms and Sibelius, both much admired composers who amply demonstrate their prowess in writing for the symphony orchestra and the concerto. Brahms’s B flat major Concerto and the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 are both majestic late-Romantic works brimming over with drama and melody and it is not difficult to see why they have won an enduring affection with music audiences.
To open the 2012/13 season this was the fourth concert of the same programme in just five days that the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder and Korean soloist Sunwook Kim had given at the Bridgewater. – so all were well rehearsed. In view of this my expectations were high that something exhilarating was on the cards and the concert certainly didn’t disappoint.
Kim was aged only 18 when he won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006 becoming the youngest winner for forty years. In fact the Hallé under Sir Mark accompanied Kim in the Leeds final so they are no strangers to each other. Kim is blessed with a steadfast technique that enabled him to reveal a broad panoply of emotions in a characterful and thrilling performance of the Brahms B flat major Concerto. Although an exceptionally talented soloist, Kim did noticeably tire during the fourth movement finale of Brahms’s stamina sapping score. I admired the Hallé’s impressive support throughout especially the rich orchestral colouring, with lovely work from the principal cello in the Andante.
The main feature of Sir Mark’s gripping interpretation of the Sibelius Second Symphony was the ineffable excitement that was generated. This magnificently impassioned performance, splendidly controlled and executed with palpable shape and momentum, drew world class playing from the assured Hallé players. It was noticeable how the homogeneous Hallé strings have developed significant body with an appealing silvery timbre to become a match for the finest orchestras around. In the finale the way Sir Mark built up towards its exultantly positive conclusion was outstanding with the big theme sounding astonishingly full, fresh and powerfully dramatic.
This was a remarkable concert with a performance of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 that can only be described as a triumph for Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra.