Neil Sowerby enjoys a fitting end to the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season
WHAT a fitting end to the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season, consummating their residency in the acoustic heaven that is the new Stoller Hall inside Chetham’s.
NCO president Raphael Wallfisch took centre stage as soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which has its own anniversary (100) next year. Under-rehearsed for its 1919 premiere, its elegiac intensity lukewarmly received by audiences struggling to resolve their own grief over the Great War, it was Elgar’s last full length work.
I’ve listened to most of the stellar performances that finally established it in the concerto repertoire – Du Pre, Casals, Tortelier – and to occasional florid takes. That would be the last adjective to describe Wallfisch’s taut, passionate interpretation, where the heartbreak of the Adagio feels like a bereft quest for resolution rather than any wallowing. All aided by those Stoller acoustics.
...it is still a shock to see veteran artistic director Nicholas Ward arranging affairs from his leader’s chair
There was a wonderful stripped down clarity, too, to the post-interval Beethoven’s Fifth. What a fiercely compressed piece this remains, those opening four hammer blow notes reassembling themselves across the symphony with fragmentary horn-led echoes even in the lyrically tender slow movement. More than usual you note, too, how the scherzo echoes Mozart (whose jaunty Magic Flute overture opened the afternoon).
Thirty years since the NCO became one of the first ensembles to dispense with a conductor, it is still a shock to see veteran artistic director Nicholas Ward arranging affairs from his leader’s chair. Now the Stoller seems the perfect home for such an approach.
After their usual involvement in the Buxton Festival the NCO will resume their Stoller Hall residency on Friday, September 28 with more Beethoven - the Eroica and Piano Concerto No.3, Freddy Kempf the soloist.