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First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 5 December 7:00pm start

Tuesday 5th Dec: First Tuesday Current Affairs discussion

We'll discuss two topical subjects

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Manchester reviewed
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Manchester music reviews

Halle Youth Orchestra

The Halle Youth Orchestra Concert

at Bridgewater Hall

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall December 2016

 

The Halle Youth Orchestra is a concert orchestra of nearly 70 young musicians all aged between 13 and 19, and all come from within the boundary of Greater Manchester. There is some serious talent here, and I sincerely hope that all of these young students find work with their chosen instrument, maybe even with the Halle Orchestra itself - who knows.

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Manchester music reviews

A Classical Extravaganza

A Classical Extravaganza

The Halle Orchestra at Bridgewater Hall

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall October 2016

 

This was The Halle Orchestra's first concert in this year's season of POPS. A series of concerts of lighter music designed to attract those who may find sitting through a whole Beethoven symphony something of a punishment, or for those who may well be new to classical music and these concerts provide a lovely opening and insight into that world.


 

Entitled A Classical Extravaganza, I thought perhaps that the music would have been more eclectic and indeed more 'extravagant' than it actually proved to be. Finding two items on the programme by the same composer was a surprise enough, but to also have three movements from one of his works when there is a whole world of music out there spanning several hundred years, was pushing it a little. Or maybe that was just me who thought that.

 

The concert was of course conducted by the very personable Stephen Bell. It is always a delight to watch him conduct, and his easy rapport with the audience as he gives us little snippets of information about the pieces is always welcome. The one thing that does irritate me slightly in a concert such as this where there are many miniature or novelty pieces lasting only a few minutes each, is why the members of the orchestra who are not playing in that particular piece need to leave the stage. Surely they can just sit silently and still for a few minutes before playing again? It is a little distracting and haphazard.

 

The music itself was of course wonderful. The Halle never disappoints. Although if I do have to be picky, then the French horns were a little out of sync on their chorded introduction to Fenby's 'Rossini On Ilkla Moor', and I could hear the cymbals being placed on the ground after they were used in the opening piece [surely they could have been placed on a cushion or cymbal rack?]. But, yes, I am nit-picking, sorry. This is live entertainment not canned, and so it will obviously not be flawless; that's part of the beauty and appeal.

 

I did know all the pieces on offer in the concert; although I suspect a good few were hearing one or two for the first time. Dvorak's Carnival Overture started the concert off and it is always a good rousing and jolly opening. In the first half there were such gems as Elgar's Chanson De Matin, one of two pieces he wrote originally for solo violin and piano so that he could perform them himself, however, this was his orchestrated version of 1901; Fenby's 'Rossini On Ilkley Moor', a novelty piece by Yorkshire composer Eric Fenby who wrote a concert overture using the tune of 'On Ilkley Moor Bah't 'at' in the style of Rossini; and Johann Strauss' waltz Tales From the Vienna Woods, which interestingly has the longest introduction to the waltz of any of Strauss' hundred or so compositions. The original version also calls for a solo zither, however, Strauss also authorised a version for string quartet to play the solo zither part, and it was this version we heard this evening.

 

We also heard Pachelbel's Canon, which sounded very different from versions of this work I had previously heard. Here the repetitive bass theme was played with strict adherence to the actual note length, coming off almost staccato before playing the next. I assume this to be more authentic perhaps; however the bass continuo theme has always been played legato before, so that there was no conceivable gap between one note and the next. Interesting.

 

Finally in the first act was one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, and a classic example of a dissident wearing his heart on his sleeve; Dmkitri Shostakovich's Romance from his film music to The Gadfly. The Halle Orchestra's leader, Paul Barritt taking the violin solo here and playing it beautifully.

 

After the interval and the spotlight was turned on one of America's, indeed the world's greatest contemporary cross-over composers, Leonard Bernstein. What a delightful start to the second half with his rather jocular and brash Overture to Candide. Back to Elgar again and three movements from his Variations On An original Theme, Enigma. Nimrod alone would have sufficed here surely, as with the next excerpt, Handel's Music For The Royal Fireworks; chose the most well known piece, in this case, La Rejouissance, and pass by the other two in favour of some other music from the vast and limitless music cupboard.

 

The penultimate piece was Faure's hauntingly beautiful Pavane. Always a delight to hear this piece; so simple and yet so heart-wrenching. And then to finish we heard the theme to TV's The Lone Ranger - or to give its correct title, Rossini's overture to the opera William Tell. This was Rossini's last opera, and yet he still continued composing for 40 years, so one can only assume that he thought this work the pinnacle of his operatic mastery. It's a great piece of music and a lovely way to finish a concert devoted to 'pops'.

 

Manchester really is spoilt with such a wealth of music at our fingertips. Manchester is home to this quite rightly world renowned orchestra, and I always feel privileged and even proud to be able to enjoy their incredible musicianship in a live arena.

 

The Bridgewater Hall itself can look a little austere and unfriendly from the outside, but I urge everyone to be brace enough to enter. The staff are always extremely pleasant, helpful and welcoming; and the Hall itself hosts a whole plethora of events, ranging from Heavy Metal gigs, to Folk music festivals to indeed rather highbrow classical concerts. But do take a look at their website, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find! Details of upcoming Halle concerts can be found at http://www.halle.co.uk/whats-on/, with The Bridgewater Hall's complete events listings at http://www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk/whats-on/.

 
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Manchester music reviews

Big Bang!

Big Bang!

The Halle Orchestra and Children's Choir

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall June 2016

 

Maybe the timing of this concert wasn't so great (Manchester Day and parade through the centre, and Fathers' Day), or maybe the inclement weather kept people away, but it was such a shame to see the Bridgewater Hall not even half full, particularly since this was a family concert. Although it was lovely to see so many families in attendance with young children, even if, in majority of cases the children were far too young, and started crying, fidgeting or sleeping during it.

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Manchester music reviews

Bridgewater Hall

Dvorák Saint Ludmila

The Halle Orchestra and Choir at The Bridgewater Hall

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall May 2016

 

Saint Ludmila is an oratorio by Antonin Dvorak and was the final concert in The Halle's festival of this great Czech composer's works, 'Nature, Life and Love'. It is also something of an enigma. Written especially for The Leeds Festival in 1886, it seems that it was written using the Czech language, as indeed the musical phrasing suggests this, the nuances and stress patterns of Czech being so vastly different from English, and with Dvorak, his stay in America still a few years in the future, he would have been far more at ease with setting his oratorio to the original words of the popular Czech poet and librettist Jaroslav Vrchlicky.

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Manchester music reviews

Bridgewater Hall

Thursday Series - Elgar, Casken, Ravel & Williams

The Halle at The Bridgewater Hall

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall April 2016

 

Prior to the evening's main concert, one of the soloists, the tenor, Joshua Ellicott, accompanied by Paul Jones on the piano, performed a short pre-concert concert entitled, 'From Your Ever Loving Son, Jack'. It was a very beautiful and moving 40 minutes, in which Ellicott read the letters of his great nephew, Jack Ellicott, and told his story, that of a young soldier, from signing up in 1915 to his death on the Somme in 1916, through some well chosen and superbly sung English (and one French) songs.

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Manchester music reviews

Once Upon a Time by Halle Youth EnsemblesBridgewater Hall

Reviewed by Matthew Dougall March 2016

 

I journeyed yesterday afternoon to the rather functional and un-predisposing building called The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, home of the world famous Halle Orchestra. Once inside the building however, the atmosphere was one of warmth and friendliness. All the staff I spoke to were lovely and happy to help, and, what was wonderful to see too was the number of younger audience members, even children. Despite the concert being given by all the youth branches of The Halle, it was a lovely sign to say that there is a future for classical music!

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Manchester music reviews

MADAME X by Tim Benjamin

Tim Benjamin's MADAME X by RNCM

Reviewed by Denis Joe October 2014

The lights go up on the stage and we see Masetto (a painter) and Zerlina (his lover and muse and the model for his paintings). Surrounding them are paintings done by Masetto, who reels off the titles (Woman With Flowered Hat!). They are interrupted by Botney, who is Masetto’s agent, he announces himself (The lovers! There’s no place like home). Two couples enter with Mr Wilmore (a wealthy capitalist) who catches sight of Zerlina (What lovely creature is this?).

 

There then follows a very funny sketch as the two couples harass the painter about the styles he works with. The painter is angered by the intrusions and has to be pacified so as not to upset the couples who are potential customers (Kill not the goose that lays the golden egg! Botney tells him).

 

Lady Brannoch (a wealth aristocrat) enters and introduces herself (...I am the Lady Brannoch, Dowager Countess of Brannoch...). Botney takes it upon himself to introduce Lady Brannoch to the Masetto (...the foremost artist of his generation...) and goes on to show Lady Brannoch Masetto’s works. Whilst the others are viewing the paintings Wilmore corners Zerlina. He disparages her life with Masetto (. . . such delicate perfections, all thrown away upon a senseless rustic . . .). She tells him that she is to marry Masetto but he persists. He tells her that if he cannot have her then he will have her likeness and announces that he will buy all the paintings and leaves.

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Manchester music reviews

Des Grieux by Gwyn Hughes Jones. Photo by Johan Persson.

Giacomo Puccini's Manon Lescaut by WNO

Reviewed by Denis Joe March 2014

 

For the spring season this year, Welsh National Opera have brought together two productions of the Manon Lescaut story: Puccini's Manon Lescaut and Hans Werner Henze's Boulevard Solitude. Though both operas relate the same story, based on the novella L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the 18th century author Antoine François Prévost, they could not be more different.

 

The lights go up on a busy railway waiting room, Des Grieux (Gwyn Hughes Jones) is curled upon a row of seats whilst the waiting room fills up. Edmondo (played as a cleaner) teases Des Grieux by stating what a beautiful night it is (Ave, sera gentile, che cliscendi. . .). Des Grieux bemoans his loneliness and his failure to find love (L'amor I Questa tragedia,ovver commedia). A woman steps into the crowd and Des Grieux is captivated. As she sits at the bar in the waiting area he approaches her tentatively.

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Manchester music reviews

Bob Geldof: Boomtown Rats

Boomtown Rats at Manchester Academy

Reviewed by Catherine Smyth November 2013

 

Ok, I will admit that there was more grey and Grecian than in the band posters that adorned my wall when I was a teen. I was a ‘rebel’ who longed to see her favourite band; I even still have the single with the freebie ticket inside the clear vinyl but I never managed to get to the Bradford concert…

 

Now, nearly 30 years later, I finally got my golden ticket and it was worth the wait.

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Manchester music reviews

Wagner Dream, Welsh National Opera

Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey

Libretto by Jean-Claude Carrière, WNO

Reviewed by Denis Joe June 2013

 

Sadly, Jonathan Harvey passed away last December and so did not look like we would get to see the staged premiere of Wagner Dream. After discussion with the composer WNO chose to present the opera in German and the ancient Pali, belonging to the Prakrit language group. It is widely studied because it is the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures.

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