REVIEW: Lancaster Haffner Orchestra

Leonard Elschenbroich will be returning to Lancaster.
Leonard Elschenbroich will be returning to Lancaster.
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A packed university Great Hall on Saturday night enjoyed an exuberant evening of classical music played by Lancaster’s own orchestra - the Haffner.

In their 40th anniversary year, the Haffner’s ability to tackle the most challenging music is reaching new heights under the assured baton of current conductor, Bob Chasey.

Two of our best-loved twentieth century composers, Elgar and Britten, were the backbone of this inventive programme.

Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the orchestra is far more than an innocent introduction to the various sections of the orchestra, but a theme and variations of the highest originality, demanding a virtuosity which the Haffner took in its stride.

In the climactic fugue, whose breathtaking speed is finally interrupted by the familiar theme resounding from the brass in solemn splendour – a moment that never fails to thrill – we heard an orchestra playing with the confidence of 40 years accumulated experience.

And they’ll be playing the Britten again to 450 lucky children in the Ashton Hall on Tuesday, March 7.

For the budding cellists in the audience, we had the treat of the Haydn concerto played by the charismatic young cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich.

The concerto, unearthed as recently as 1960, contains all the hallmarks of Haydn’s genius - ingenuity and humour in equal measure.

Elschenbroich’s mastery of his instrument and the ease with which he threw off the trickiest of passages belied the taxing demands of the piece and drew ecstatic applause from an entranced audience.

Two transcriptions of tunes by Purcell and Monteverdi, by Britten and Lancaster’s own Justin Doyle added to the richness of the programme, which was crowned by a little-known orchestration by Elgar of a Bach Fantasia and Fugue.

Late in life, Elgar gave himself permission to let the multi-coloured resources of the modern symphony orchestra loose on the inexorable harmonic progressions of Bach.

The result made for an exhilarating conclusion - loud, startling, and immense fun.

The Great Hall audience responded warmly having enjoyed a wonderfully varied evening from very capable hands.