Hipperholme Grammar School shines at Huddersfield Town Hall
Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite is best known for its big tune in the Jupiter movement and the aggressive rhythms and menace of the opening ‘Mars, The Bringer Of War’. But the work overall is an extraordinary exploration of orchestral timbres and moods and it was well served by the Huddersfield Phil, conducted by Robert Guy.
The Mars movement was certainly exciting, with the percussion section excelling itself. The gong was played with ear shattering panache. But the exquisite “Venus, The Bringer Of Peace” was equally well played, with Holst’s beautiful sonorities – such as a choir of flutes – fully realised.
The Planets was premiered in 1919, but no work could be less of a period piece. Appropriately, in view of its subject matter, it seems to stand outside musical time. It was good to have the opportunity to hear a well-crafted performance of the entire work, complete with orchestral exotica such as alto flute and bass oboe making a telling contribution to the tapestry.
The Philharmonic was more at home in the Holst than in the concluding work of the first half, Strauss’s Four Last Songs, for soprano and orchestra. Whereas I barely detected any intonation issues during The Planets, some of the Straussian harmonies seemed a little sour.
The soprano soloist – a late substitution – was Paula Sides who showed that she had the power and stamina required for this taxing work. I felt she was having to fight the orchestra a little in the first song, but the second – which has softer dynamics – was a much more satisfactory blend of orchestra and soloist with the singer demonstrating a beautiful pianissimo tone.
The final movement of The Planets features the mysterious sound of an offstage choir, seemingly vanishing into infinity as the work concludes. The mystery voices were provided by the choir of Hipperholme Grammar School, an ensemble that is plainly capable of rising to musical challenges.
During the first half of the concert the choir had been featured in full vision, singing Verdi’s Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and the Amen Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, a piece of music that is woven into the fabric of the Town Hall.
For a relatively small body of young singers, the Hipperholme choir, singing with good discipline and tuning, certainly made its presence felt even though I thought the orchestra could have backed off a little in the Handel.
This was a very worthwhile contribution between a local orchestra and youth choir and it is always good when this district’s exceptional musical resources are used in this way.
Review by William Marshall