21 November 2015
Reviewed by Ann Durrell
Keep the Home Fires Burning at the Bridgewater Hall was a celebration of a mix of classical music from the period of the First World War. The music was played by the Halle with Stephen Bell conducting and narrated by Tom Redmond.
Throughout the performance Tom Redmond as Narrator gave an insight into the effect the First World War had in Manchester. How Dunham Massey, now a National Trust House and Parkland had been used as a medical hospital and how on Chapel Street in Altrincham out of 100 houses on the street 66 of its residents left to fight in the trenches giving it a reputation of the bravest street in Manchester. Redmond also told of the impact the war had on the Halle, out of 96 musicians 27 joined the fight and it was the first time women were allowed to join the orchestra only to be sacked after the war as the new leader didn’t believe a mixed orchestra could produce quality music! A hard fact to believe after the performance the Halle gave during the evening. We also heard of the war efforts from the composers including the solemn story of George Butterworth, whose A Shropshire Lad: Rhapsody for Orchestra was played. Butterworth had destroyed most of his compositions before going to war in the fear that should he not return his unfinished works would be found. It was sad to hear how he was lost to the trenches at the tender age of 20.
During parts of the concert, on a large screen behind the orchestra, images and videos from the war were shown. We saw videos of the troops preparing for war whilst Ralph Vaughn Williams Symphony No 7 was being played, a piece with a gentle start but with an ominous undertone. An emotional performance of Elgar’s Elegy for Strings was made all the more powerful with images of the troops in the trenches being shown. Prior to playing George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, was a video of actors reading A E Houseman’s emotive poem about the friend of a solider lost to the war and his sweetheart.
Whilst it was a very reflective evening the performance was not just restricted to music one may identify with WW1. The final performance of the first act was Gemma Dunne singing ‘Lile Marlene’ a poem set to music sung beautifully, this then led into a sing along of ‘Pack up your troubles’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ for which it was good to see the majority of the crowd standing and joining in. The second half was opened with Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, a far more upbeat and Jazzy piece played to acknowledge how music changed and fused when America joined the war, bringing a new style in contrast to the European Classical style. We also heard in part two Maurice Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia, composed for the score of the film set on the life of war hero T.E Lawrence. The evening ended with the well know story of the Christmas Day truce of 1914 with the Halle playing, and singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night).
It was lovely to be able to hear a mix of classical music styles in one performance and it was of course all played to perfection by the Halle. Stephen Bell conducted with excellence throughout showing real energy and passion for the variety of music. My only criticism on the evening was that during the first half there seemed to be some kind of feedback during the narrating but it did not distract from what I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
For other performances at Bridgewater Hall visit www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk.
The Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3WS | 0161 907 9000