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Berlioz, Mozart, Brahms: Hallé Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Lynsey Marsh (basset clarinet), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 27.1.2011 (MC)

Overture: Beatrice and Benedict (1862)
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K622 (1791)
Brahms: Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68 (1876)

It was fascinating to witness at first hand the fearsomely gifted young British conductor with a burgeoning reputation. The London born Robin Ticciati already has an impressive curriculum vitae: he is principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. A former music director for Glyndebourne on Tour, Ticciati will conduct Mozart’s Don Giovanni with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the 2011 Glyndebourne Festival.

Opening the concert was the overture to the comic opera Beatrice and Benedict from Berlioz the trailblazing Romantic composer. Less overtly dramatic than the popular Berlioz overtures Roman Carnival Overture and The Corsair the score has been rightly called “allusive” and is a tricky work. Without any sense of being overdriven Ticciati brought off the score with polish and purpose.

Mozart composed his Clarinet Concerto for virtuoso Anton Stadler. Originally intended for the additional low register of the basset clarinet the concerto is normally played on the standard ‘A’ clarinet. As soloist Hallé principal Lynsey Marsh played the basset clarinet capably with focus; if giving a rather understated performance. For those demanding lashings of personality and charisma this wasn’t the place. Star performers such as Sabine Meyer can provide that in spades.

Brahms agonised for decades about composing his Symphony No.1 in C minor. The conductor Hans von Bülow even referred to the symphony as, “Beethoven’s tenth.” Ticciati wasn’t affected by any weight of history conducting the score without fear or trepidation. The symphony was given a convincingly vivid reading with Ticciati never resorting to pomp or grandiosity.

Taken a touch slower than I expected in the opening movement Ticciati moulded the variegated passages of beauty and menace. A burnished autumnal feel was given to the slow movement with an eerie tranquillity of a shadowy forest awaiting the threatening onset of inclement weather. Ticciati underlined the glorious lyrical melodies that abound in the short Un poco allegretto e grazioso. The orchestra responded creating refreshing music of the great outdoors evocative of wonderful Tyrolean scenery. Ticciati imbued a sense of intense activity in the closing movement that easily evoked picturesque Alpine landscapes with its quickly shifting tones and shimmering colours. Brahms’s great theme with its distinct similarities to the Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ theme was remarkably affecting. Tautly controlled by Ticciati the jubilant close was dynamic and exciting. Ticciati obtained splendid playing from the responsive Hallé; the strings excelled playing beautifully with a golden tone. Beautiful oboe and clarinet contributions took the ear and the capable brass played with real character. The elegant Hallé sound doesn’t come from deep underneath it is more transparent than most orchestras.

Ticciati did a really splendid job. I hope he is on the Bridgewater podium again soon.

Michael Cookson

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