The Haffner Orchestra’s March concert had me keenly anticipating performances of music by two composers who are favourites of mine, Brahms and Sibelius, and intrigued by the prospect of a contemporary piece harking back to Beethoven. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sibelius violin concerto, and remembered an exciting performance of it from the Haffner and Leland Chen a number of years back.
The evening opened with the aforementioned piece by Britta Byström “A Walk to Beethoven”. A bold series of rhythmic pulses starting in the double bass section spreads through the orchestra, with the pattern eventually resolving into some clear quotes from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. As the “walk” progressed, it seemed to be like we might be in a forest, with birdsong coming from the woodwind, with the continued pulsing from the strings helping to propel the music along.
After the Byström, the audience welcomed Callum Smart to the stage to perform the ever-popular Sibelius Violin concerto. The opening of this piece is one of the most eerie and mysterious in the repertoire, but even so I was quite surprised at the restraint shown by Callum in his first passages. I found myself wanting a bit more expressiveness as the first movement continued, but this is probably a matter of taste!
The second movement is always a sunny gentle respite in an otherwise turbulent piece, and the Haffner and Callum put that over well, including the rich sound of the strings in the “shadier” passages of Nordic darkness, which I particularly enjoyed.
After an interval, the orchestra returned alone with Brahms 1st Symphony. This was my favourite piece of the whole evening, and despite the obvious challenges of putting on such a “big” piece, and the stamina required, the orchestra delivered a formidable performance. Some highlights for me were the way the strings enjoyed their cross-rhythms in the first movement, and the big moment in the last movement where that gorgeous rich tune comes in didn’t disappoint!
Overall, the concert was another highly enjoyable evening with the Haffner, and I look forward to their next outing in June!