The Hallé orchestra’s concerts around Britain take them to a number of towns which do not normally get to hear top-quality orchestral concerts, with forthcoming performances in Kendal, Carlisle and Derby and others. The excitement and sense of occasion were therefore quite obvious as the crowds gathered for Sibelius, Mahler and Elgar in Perth Concert Hall.

© FBroede
© FBroede

The concert opened with Sibelius’ second Scènes Historiques suite. As Sir Mark Elder pointed out, this is not a frequently performed work. It is very clearly the work of Sibelius, and is highly programmatic. The orchestra gave a good account of the work, with particularly sensitive playing from the horn section in the first movement and the woodwind in the third. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how this piece can be overlooked in favour of the composer’s more unified compositions.

The highlight of the concert followed, with Roderick Williams singing Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. This was Mahler’s first song cycle, and it is partly autobiographical in its description of the Wayfarer’s grief at his unreturned love, reflecting the composer’s unhappy love affair with Joanna Richter whilst conducting in Kassel. The songs are of true romantic style in their depiction of nature, from the merry finch and bluebells of the second movement to the Wayfarer’s death beneath the blossom of the linden tree in the fourth.

Roderick Williams gave an excellent performance, covering quiet, mournful passages and passionate tragedy (in the third movement) with an exquisite range of pathos and power. Beneath him, the orchestra played with sublime tenderness from the opening clarinet statements to the closing dying flutes. This was a slightly sturdier performance than most. Whilst retaining the requisite sensitivity, the sounds were always firmly placed, perhaps suggesting a Wayfarer surer of his grief than many other performances. The effect was enthralling and very moving, particularly as the timpani and basses sounded the funeral march of the fourth movement.

The second half of the concert saw Elgar’s First Symphony, a work premiered by the Hallé in 1908. Though grand, noble and according to some imperial in the opening and closing few minutes, this is not a symphony of a totally contented man. It is tinged with doubt; even as the heroic A♭ major melody returns in the fourth movement, accented syncopation threatens to derail it. Ultimately, however, Elgar the extrovert emerges with the triumphant melody than reverberated around the atrium as the audience left.

As always, Elder’s reading was immaculate in its attention to detail, and the tempi and dynamics gave a true sense of direction. This was helped by pleasingly clear orchestral playing, particularly in the fourth movement’s syncopations, which can often blur into an indistinct sound. The orchestra played with great warmth and passion, and the result was a magnificent performance which both players and audience clearly enjoyed, as evidenced by Sir Mark’s four returns to the stage for bows.

*****