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From the archive: the Hallé and Sir John Barbirolli wow Bristol with Elgar (August 1945)

In two weeks’ time the Hallé orchestra make a welcome return to Colston Hall under Sir Mark Elder, and the most anticipated work on the programme must surely be Elgar’s Symphony No. 2. Nearly 70 years ago, the orchestra delighted their Bristol audience with the very same symphony, under one of it’s greatest musical directors.

The Hallé have a deserved reputation for their impeccable performances of Elgar – this is the orchestra who premiered his Symphony No. 1 back in 1908, conducted by close friend of the composer, Hans Richter, to whom the work was dedicated. But by 1943 the orchestra was in crisis when over half of its players left. It was Sir John Barbirolli who rebuilt the orchestra, recruiting new players with passion, and in the ensuing years took them all over the country bringing music to the people and restoring the orchestra’s reputation.

The orchestra visited Bristol several times under Barbirolli. In 1945, having survived the war, disaster befell Colston Hall when it was destroyed by fire. Concerts instead were given at Central Hall in Old Market, and in August of that year the Hallé and Barbirolli delighted their Bristolian audience with their renewed passion and hard work, as this review from the Western Daily Press attests:

HALLE CONCERT IN BRISTOL

Orchestra’s Excellent Performance

A large and enthusiastic audience greeted the Hallé Orchestra, conducted by John Barbirolli, at the Central Hall, Bristol last night. The concert opened in grand style with a faithful and spirited performance of the Mastersingers Overture of Wagner. The string tone was inclined at times to be rather brittle. Woodwind and brass gave an excellent account of themselves. The tuba was heard to great advantage, and its tone was always pleasing.

The Concertante Symphonie for Violin and Viola (soloists Laurance Turner and George Alexander respectively) came as a great contrast. This finesse and understanding although the soloists did not always appear or sound at ease. No doubt this was due to the humid atmosphere prevailing in the hall.

To complete the first half three pieces from “the Damnation of Faust” (Berlioz) were played with delightful charm, grace and vigour.

Outstanding Work

The Second Symphony of Elgar was the outstanding work, and the playing was likewise brilliant. This symphony was last heard in Bristol eight years ago, when Barbirolli conducted the L.P.O.

The demands on the orchestra and conductor in this work are immense, and require virtuosi playing. Barbirolli was ever the complete master. His control and gradation in the treacherous crescendi and brilliant climaxes were a delight.

In Elgar one looks for those broad, spacious tunes, and last night the listener was able to revel in them. The orchestra and its conductor must have put in much hard work in rehearsal to have reached such perfection of performance.

Today, the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder, having received deserved acclaim for their recordings of Elgar’s The Apostles in 2013, are proving that they are a halcyon Elgar orchestra once more.

The Hallé perform Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 on Saturday 24 January 2015 at 7.30pm. Click here to book. 

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