> Halle Encore [CH]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Fanfare for the Common Man
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Spartacus: Adagio
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Mors et Vita: Judex
Hamish MacCUNN (1868-1916)

Land of the Mountain and Flood, op. 3
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1916)

Manon Lescaut: Intermezzo
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo
Erik SATIE (1866-1925) orch. Claude Debussy

Gymnopédies: 1, 3
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Thaïs: Meditation
Remo GIAZOTTO (1910-1998)

Adagio in g minor on two thematic hints and a figured bass by Albinoni
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) ed. Seiffert

Trad. Welsh arr. George WELDON (1906-1963)

Suo gan
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)

Adagio for Strings, op. 11
Hallé Orchestra/Maurice Handford
Recorded in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, June 1979, May 1980

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This will bring back memories to Mancunians, quite apart from the pleasure it will give generally, for Maurice Handford was deputy to Barbirolli in his last years at the Hallé. A Manchester man himself, he was passed over when the time came to choose a successor to Sir John (and I looked for his name in vain in the history section of the Hallé’s current website), the feeling being that a "home-boy grown good" was not quite good enough (who remembers that long interregnum with its endless waiting and speculation while standards dropped and dropped?). To tell the truth, my memories of him are from broadcast performances, for he did the rounds with the BBC regional orchestras of the day, and nothing I remember made by heart beat any faster, for all his honest competence. However, after a lapse of time it is good to return to his art and to discover a fine musician at work. Though the orchestra’s final choice of James Loughran proved an excellent one, Handford’s claims were not negligible. For the Hallé, at the time of these recordings, he also perhaps represented a link with a glorious past (Mancunians will also feel a tinge of nostalgia on seeing long-serving leader Martin Milner still at the front desk), and they play their collective hearts out for him in the two Italian Intermezzi. Sir John would have been proud of them. No less heart-warming is their rendering of Remo Giazotto’s immortal monument to spurious religiosity, the so-called Albinoni Adagio (the title as originally published is that given above). In a programme of mainly slow pieces Handford provides unfailingly musical phrasing and pacing and I for one listened to it at one go with complete enjoyment. He is also excellent at differentiating the various styles, so his Satie is cool and chaste while the Khachaturian finds a vernal freshness rather than the hothouse Hollywoodian style usually favoured. The strings hardly have a Philadelphia-like weight at the climax but this is a highly attractive rendering. It should be pointed out, however, that among the conductors who favoured the sultry Hollywood approach were the composer himself, so evidently he liked it like that. Not all of his listeners might agree. In the Massenet, Martin Milner is sweet-toned though it would be idle to pretend that he had the security of intonation and technical address of certain full-time soloists who have recorded the piece.

In a different vein, the Copland provides a suitably brazen start (but the other American work, the Barber, really needs a Bernstein to make it stay its length) and I heard the once-popular "Judex" with interest since I had previously known it only by name and by my own efforts on the organ – also in this latter form I have always found that it has an effect on the public far beyond the apparent value of its written notes. The MacCunn perhaps lacks the virile energy and proud romanticism which Sir Alexander Gibson found in it (not for nothing did that classic recording achieve a hit as the theme-tune for BBC’s "Sutherland’s Law") but there is still much vitality. "Suo Gan" is an affectionate tribute to another conductor, George Weldon, who gave Midland audiences in particular much to be grateful for.

As the sound is still vivid it should be added that, if your interest lies not in the rediscovery of a semi-forgotten conductor and a slice of regional British musical history, but in a selection of popular favourites, this will provide at least as much enjoyment as many a more blazoned name.

Christopher Howell

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