This is a splendid disc and a great advertisement for the fabulous music-making that takes place in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall these days.
The longest work on here (Bax's Tintagel) is only seventeen minutes long but there is a world of expression and emotion in these pieces that debunks the myth that all English music is about dewy-eyed, post-imperial nostalgia. I had never heard Tintagel before (or any Bax) but its evocative, powerful opening and lush, surging orchestration have already pushed it very high up my list of favourite short orchestral pieces and have encouraged me to start exploring more of this neglected composer's output.
The Halle are peerless in English music and their sound here is rich, handsome and classy with a warm, glowing string tone which is becoming their trademark. Elder guides them with a firm but gentle hand and unerring pace and phrasing. I always think this partnership sounds better rehearsed and prepared than almost anybody else; they really get to the heart of the music but they never allow their playing to become analytical or self-conscious. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the best musical partnership operating in Britain today and is every bit as significant as that of Rattle and the CBSO in the 80s and 90s; only the decline of major recording contracts and their marketing power have denied them the higher profile they deserve.
The acoustic shortcomings of the London concert halls have given own-label releases a bit of a bad press sometimes. Manchester is a different story; both of our orchestras collaborate and co-operate and share the resources of the Bridgewater Hall and BBC Manchester's Studio 7, so the sound quality of the Halle's releases is vivid, rich and warm.
All in all, a disc of beautiful music, beautifully played and recorded. The marketing strapline up the spine of the CD case says it all: Sublime Halle.