Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Richard Trinder
Managing Editor
11:02 AM 12th April 2024

Mahler And Strauss At Huddersfield Town Hall

Huddersfield Town Hall with 80 members of the Orchestra of Opera North
Huddersfield Town Hall with 80 members of the Orchestra of Opera North
Let me start with a boast: the last time I heard a Mahler symphony was in San Francisco, under the baton of the world famous Michael Tilson Thomas. Surely a production at Huddersfield Town Hall with a provincial orchestra would be worthy, but somehow inferior.

Well, how wrong can you be?

The Orchestra of Opera North has just completed its latest contribution to this year's Kirklees Orchestral Series with Strauss' glorious music of farewell; the Four Last Songs, Mahler's 1st Symphony and the premier of a specially commissioned piece: The Downfall of Gaius Verres by Adam Walters.

Walters' piece was inspired by the trial of Sicilian governor Gaius Verres. It's a tale of a lawyer spending years trying to bring a corrupt politician to book and in the process defending democracy itself - sound familiar?

It's a tough challenge to have your new work sitting alongside the greats of Strauss and Mahler but Walters piece seems to pay homage to its illustrious fellows and made a very fine opening to a great concert.


Strauss was 84 years old and in declining health when he found the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff. It had a special and highly personal meaning for him. He set its text to music in May 1948 and the songs became one of the composer's final completed works.

These Strauss songs are timeless, moving and extremely beautiful. It took a very special performance to do justice to them and the orchestra with soprano Francesca Chiejina achieved this handsomely.

Francesca Chiejina was an excellent choice for the Strauss. She has such a rich, lustrous voice and enough power in her lower register to coexist with an entire horn section of the orchestra. That alone is something of an achievement.


Mahler’s First Symphony depicts the depth, breadth and seemingly endless cycle of life from the first days of Spring - complete with cuckoo calls - to a funeral march in the third.

The third movement starts with a double bass soloist playing a minor key version of Frère Jacques, then passing this figure around the orchestra, and finally making a wild sideways lurch into a round of Klezma music. Extraordinary and delightful.

Not to be outdone, the final fourth movement is rousing, rumbustious and a positive affirmation of life.

The Orchestra of Opera North

Is it my imagination, or has the orchestra, always good, blossomed even further? In the past I have seen the word 'provincial' attached to descriptions of this orchestra. In one strict sense of the word it is correct - the orchestra is from and of the north. However, the more pejorative definition of 'lacking in sophistication' is far from applicable.

Conductor Garry Walker showed complete commitment, and indeed some balletic prowess on his rostrum, in helping this excellent orchestra to produce another fine performance.

The Kirklees Concert Season 2023/2024 continues and more information can be found here.