Shakespeare’s words from Twelfth Night have inspired so many composers to write about the many differing aspects of love, that this special Valentine’s Day concert could have been sub-titled ‘Variety Is The Spice of Life’, such was the breadth of music on offer.
It was also an evening for some of the bright young stars of classical music, with conductor Jamie Phillips, at 23 years old, already being a seasoned assistant conductor with the Halle in Manchester. Tenor Ben Johnson and soprano Susanna Hurrell have recently trained at the Royal College of Music, and have become well known and much acclaimed in the world of opera.
Off to a flyer with a medley from George Gershwin’s Girl Crazy, we were then pulled back to the notion of pure love with Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, an engagement present to his wife-to-be Alice, before completing the initial set with the Mozart’s ever-popular overture from the Marriage of Figaro.
Arias from some of the famous operas of Verdi and Puccini then gave our soloists the chance to shine – and they made an immediate impact on the audience with their delightful voices and manner, whether solo or as a duet.
The first half ended with music from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, with its obvious Shakespeare connection. The rich, sonorous heavy brass in the Montagues and Capulets was spot on, as was the music to accompany the stabbing of the angry Tybalt.
The celebration continued in the second half with the rousing prelude to the Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, before the more thoughtful, and sensitively expressed Tatyana’s Letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Hurrell played the emotions of young love in this for all she was worth, and it worked a treat.
The orchestral highlight was Khachaturian’s adagio from his 1954 post-Stalinist ballet Spartacus, particularly fondly remembered by many of the audience as the theme to the BBC’s drama series The Onedin Line from the 1970s. The flute of Juliette Bausor and oboe of Steven Hudson particularly stood out, whilst leading the orchestra into the main theme.
No evening such as this would be complete without some of the Franz Lehar’s operatic love arias, with the excerpt from the Merry Widow being the perfect finale.
We will undoubtedly see much more of these three sure-footed young stars, and it is reassuring to see that so many are being given their chances on major stages, so soon in their careers.