Review: A Child of Our Time \ Mendelssohn Violin Concerto \ Hilary Hahn \ Edward Gardner

Hilary Hahn’s Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at the Refugee Council Festival Hall fundraiser though endearingly fragile throughout left me feeling a little cold.

The considerable control she exerted over the varying speed changes gave the first movement a sort of religious quality, superseding the usually languid melody with a long series of plaintive statements. In that respect I heard the Concerto in a new light.

Whilst that in itself is a good thing, that artistic gamble didn’t really pay off for me. When the ensemble worked, the rubatos were an eye-popping demonstration of soloist and orchestra working fluidly together. But sometimes I just wanted the motor to carry on running once we’d got into fourth gear.

Tippett’s A Child of our Time

Lots of people complain when concerts come with a political message.

Fuck knows why. When a work as thought-provoking and brilliant as Child of Our Time is inspired by a political event and communicates a political message that is as relevant now as it was at its premiere in 1944, to deny politics a place in the concert hall is to sanitise the world around us.

When classical music is aligned with an albeit self-selecting audience, a powerful united force emanates. That’s when classical music has grit.

A short speech given by a recent beneficiary of the Refugee Council’s work set the scene appropriately, reminded us of the meanness unleashed in society in recent years, and prepared the ground for Tippett music.

That music reminds us that we haven’t learned, and that we must remain resolute.

This performance was then, before it even began, a highly-charged affair. Tippett’s is a masterful creation, a superior melding of British music orthodoxy with the soothing universality that exudes from the spirituals that conclude each of the three parts of the work.

Here conductor Edward Gardner shone, commanding a fierce chorus with a laser-like ensemble of soloists including Sophie Bevan, Alice Coote, Toby Spence and Brindley Sherratt – “I would know my shadow and my light” was especially gripping. Brass and wind created some breathtaking colours, with precise articulation that added to the poignancy.

The ensemble issues in the chorus during the third spiritual, weren’t on reflection as distracting as I’d first thought, giving the voices a universally authentic feel as opposed to the aloof sound choruses can sometimes create.

A deeply affecting performance that concluded with a devastating silence.

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  • Picture credit: Simon Jay Price

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