Saint-Saens, Dukas, Ravel and Debussy

Renaud Capuçon; The Hallé/Louis Langrée

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 26 January 2009 4 stars

Renaud Capucon

For me the most important aspect of this excellent concert was the presence of a great many school children – representing both the primary and secondary sector – accompanied by their class teachers (rather than by specialist music teachers, although they too might have been present). I was impressed by the interest and discipline of the children before, during and after the concert which was well programmed for younger (and less experienced adult) listeners but did nevertheless conclude rather late in the evening.

The children and their teachers attended as part of the Hallé's educational work. Their 'Adopt-a-player' project involves a school class 'adopting' a Hallé musician who visits the school for two sessions prior to the class visiting the Bridgewater Hall to attend a concert.

The first session involves the musician playing and talking about their instrument and about life as a professional musician. The musician also gives an introduction to the music that the children will hear in the concert.

The second session has a similar structure but also includes a simple creative music workshop. For older children, this could involve a coaching session with a music group from within the school - an instrumental group, a band or the school orchestra. On the evening of the concert, the children are met by their adopted player in the foyer of the Bridgewater Hall before attending the performance.

In September and October 2008, four schools from Stockport were involved in the 'Adopt-a-player scheme'. During the current school term, children from the Sale area are benefiting from the project. The children whom I saw at the concert came from Sale High School and from three primary schools: St Joseph's RC, St Ann's CE and Worthington. During the forthcoming weeks, assisted by their adopted musicians, they will be creating their own version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Each school has been allotted a section of the story (based on Goethe's poem and the Disney cartoon) and the four adopted Hallé players will play short interludes between the four school projects to create a coherent piece of music lasting around 20 minutes or so. This new piece will be performed at Sale High School on 27 February. If I lived in Manchester, instead of North London, I would be in the front row of the audience for this exciting event.

Appropriately, the 21 January Hallé concert started with The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Dukas. Although the bassoon presents the most important musical themes, praise must also go to the horns who excelled in the softest as well as the loudest passages.

 In the Havanaise for violin and orchestra (Saint-Saëns) solo violinist Renaud Capuçon immediately impressed with his warm, unforced violin tone, but his pitching was not as perfect as one would have wished. Nevertheless, nicely shaped and stylish phrases as well as virtuosity were offered in abundance by him. There were no pitching problems in the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin and orchestra (Saint-Saëns) – perhaps his nerves had settled by then – or in the Tzigane: concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra (Ravel). Indeed, in the latter I would have preferred much wider gaps for the characteristic gypsy interval – that is, for the augmented second. But this was partly Ravel's fault, because at times he politely notated such intervals as regular minor thirds. The clarinet solo in Tzigane particularly suited the Hallé's principal clarinettist (Lynsey Marsh), although her playing style reminded me more of klezmer than Hungarian gypsy music which was supposedly the model for Ravel's piece.  

Louis LangreeConductor Louis Langrée was a very sympathetic accompanist in the violin pieces. In the orchestral pieces he inspired and supported a sensitive chamber music-like approach. Ravel's Ma Mère L'Oye (Mother Goose) was distinguished by beautiful oboe solos – in particular in the second movement – by Stephane Rancourt and, in the final movement, by warm tutti strings and fine solo playing by violinist Paul Barrit. The virtuosity of the flute section, for instance in the third movement, also impressed.  Langrée really presented an orchestral story which one could enjoy and imagine even without knowing the Mother Goose story.

The story-telling continued in Debussy's La Mer (The Sea) where, in spite of the very large orchestral forces, Langrée's interpretation was full of nuances. His conducting gestures seem to draw from a large palette of possibilities thus giving him full control at any given time. Praise is due to the trumpets for their excellent muted passage (third movement), to the horns for their masterly fanfares with truly measured diminuendos (third movement) and to the whole orchestra for responding to Langrée as they did.       

The children from Sale had an excellent introduction to classical music concerts and they clearly enjoyed themselves. The regular adult audience, too, was appreciative but, I confess, my eyes were on the children. Long may they continue to enjoy classical music!

By Agnes Kory

Photo: Louis Langree (bottom), Renaud Capucon (top)

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Mark ElderRelated articles:

Interview with the Halle's Music Director, Sir Mark Elder
Review of the Halle's concert of Bartok with Radu Lupu in November
Review of The Dream of Gerontius with Bryn Terfel on the Halle's own CD label
Preview of the Halle's current season


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