Heroic and Wonderful Playing from the Hallé and Stenz

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Dvořák, Beethoven: Miklós Perényi (cello), Hallé Orchestra / Markus Stenz (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 28.10.12 (MC)

Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894/95)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, ‘Eroica’ (1803/04)

A staple of the repertory Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 the ‘Eroica’ is the work that I have seen programmed the most in recent seasons. Shrouded in fascinating romanticism Beethoven originally dedicated the score to Napoleon as the ‘BonaparteSymphony only to later strike the name from the manuscript when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Performances of the ‘Eroica’ often disappoint. I still shudder when remembering a performance, I attended in May last year at Munich given by the renowned New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert, that seemed so lacklustre it felt as if I had been in my seat for a lifetime.

No such problems with this performance by German born conductor Markus Stenz who knows the Hallé well. Holding prominent positions in both Germany and the Netherlands Stenz has been principal guest conductor of the Hallé since the 2009/10 season. Demonstrating full measure of the epic score, maestro Stenz drove the music forward choosing broad dynamics and negotiating the challenging tempi changes with unerring equanimity. Stenz’s firm grip certainly didn’t disrupt the concentrated heroic effect. As the music ebbed and flowed Stenz skilfully managed the contrasting dramatic climaxes with beautifully soft playing. I certainly don’t think I have heard the Marcia funebre played with as much unnerving yet compelling intensity. All the Hallé sections were on their finest form especially the strings that have developed a marvellous silvery tone.

More excellent string playing had appeared in the first half of the concert with experienced Hungarian cellist Miklós Perényi as soloist in Dvořák’s celebrated Cello Concerto. A work predominantly a product of Dvořák’s final months in New York and owing much to Czech folk music, the composer was clearly thinking of returning to his home country. With Perényi one sensed we were in the care of a consummate performer with a concerto that he must have played countless times. Playing with firm control Perényi’s virtuosity seemed effortless. Maybe I’ve listened to too many recordings of Rostropovich playing the concerto as I was left wishing that Perényi had squeezed additional emotion out of Dvořák’s writing.

Wonderful things are happening with the Hallé and I was glad I was there to savour such magnificent playing under Markus Stenz especially in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’.

Michael Cookson