I must begin by saying that the Bridgewater Hall is a wonderful place to listen to music, it's designed to be good. Then you need a great orchestra, that's the Halle.
Not being a fan of Brahms wasn't a problem. The first part of the concert was Brahms' 2nd piano concerto, the piano played by Sunwook Kim, remember the name, you will be hearing more of this man. A delicate touch, perfect timing and a master of dynamics, Sunwook is likely to become as acclaimed as Lang Lang.
As I've said, I'm not a big Brahms fan, but I enjoyed the concerto well enough. But my main reason for coming to the Bridgewater Hall was to hear Sibelius. My previous experience of Sibelius has been listening on my iPod, sometimes radio and once live. I have all the recordings of Sibelius' Symphonies by Simon Rattle with the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and they really are wonderful. However, I've never listened to any other performances seriously. I can imagine older readers asking if I've heard Barbirolli's recordings, especially after going to the Bridgewater Hall which is, really, his legacy. The answer is no. But I will. I promise. Soon.
So Sibelius Symphony No2. The last time I came to the Hall to see Sibelius, it was my favourite, the 5th. Twice as many basses as any sensible orchestra needed, but that's Sibelius. I really can't separate the music from the man or the country. If you get the chance, there is a 2 part documentary, made by the BBC which goes a long way to explaining the kind of person Jean Sibelius was and why and how he made the music he did.
I loved the 5th played by the Halle. In fact I heard it twice in the same week, it was so good. For the 2nd, I invited my father and his partner. A great time was had by all. There is something to understand about Sibelius' music, he wasn't a romantic symphonist, and he didn't want to be regarded as an impressionist (as some called him). If anything, he was the beginning of a musical movement that moved away from direct representation and moved towards provoking emotion. He was the Picasso after Monet, unafraid to change what was happening in music, masterful of the underlying technique but wanting, or needing, to move forward and change how music was made and heard.
Mark Elder and the orchestra made the evening a memorable one, each and every drop of drama was wrought from the second symphony, even to the point of slowing down the finale to build the tension.
If you get the chance to see the Halle and Mark Elder, take it. If it's not the Halle, but it's at Bridgewater Hall, take it until the Halle are back.
This is the Barbirolli version for you: