Review: The Halle Orchestra, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 12th October 2019

THE deaths of his father and three brothers tinged the formative years of composer Gerald Finzi.

Finzi’s pastoral orchestral tone poem The Fall of the Leaf, although suffused with the whiff and glow of autumn bonfires, is surely an elegy for a lost world. Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle gave the premiere at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in December 1957. Last Saturday’s finely crafted performance conducted by Andrew Manze, standing in for the convalescing Sir Mark Elder, captured the essential character of this lovely work. Manze released the muted colours from Finzi’s score. Bustling strings, woodwind and brass all had richness and warmth under his carefully nuanced direction.

From a Finzi rarity to one of the most instantly memorable concertos in the repertory. The flowing melodic line of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor has attracted the greatest virtuosi ever since Joseph Joachim back in 1868. Canadian violinist James Ehnes’ sumptuous- toned lyricism reached the heart of this concerto - the soaring intensity of the central slow movement. Ehnes made the boisterous Hungarian gypsy style finale seem so much more than a display of pyrotechnics. Manze and the Halle were the consummate orchestral partners .

The second half was devoted to Elgar’s Symphony No 1 in A flat, acknowledged as the first great English symphony. Andrew Manze allowed the great motto theme of the first movement to unfold majestically. The scurrying passages of the agitated second movement Scherzo bristled with energy. Then, the complex and probably unique change of gear as the Scherzo magically gives way to the soulful outpouring of the great Adagio. The Finale brought a thrilling resolution: Manze martialled his forces into the triumphant re-statement of the motto theme with whooping horns, blazing trumpets and thunderous off-beat accents from the strings, woodwind and timpani. This is Elgar at his most gloriously self- indulgent.

Geoffrey Mogridge