A full house welcomed the visiting Hallé orchestra in a programme that could have been specially designed to show off their current strengths.
After Andrew Gourlay’s deliciously dark and flowing account of Strauss’s Wind Serenade, we were joined by Imogen Cooper and Mark Elder in a sublime performance of Mozart’s Piano concerto no. 18, K456.
Cooper is a great artist and her unforced clarity and musicianship shone through every bar. The G minor slow movement, with its charm and detail of line, suited her perfectly, but so too did the ebullience of the virtuoso writing in the outer movements, Subtlety of orchestral detail was here throughout, along with those wonderful moments when shadows pass over the face of the music. This was a performance to hold in the memory.
The Hallé’s connections with Vaughan Williams date back almost a century, and the London Symphony proved that in Mark Elder too they have a conductor who clearly loves this music.
Elder kept things moving – no luxuriating – and his firm grip on the structure made the pictorial elements: the Westminster Chimes, the distant jingle of a hansom-cab, the Cockney merry-making, assume their rightful places in the overall design.
This was a wonderfully responsive evocation of the capital, full of vitality. (I have never heard better playing of the quicksilver scherzo). Full, too, of poetic feeling and a tragic awareness of a world on the brink of catastrophe. Everything was here from ultra quiet string textures and distinguished solos, rising in the finale to brass playing ecstatic in its power and nobility.