Bergen Philharmonic Galvanises Audience with Heldenleben

01/02/2013

 Delius, Grieg, R. Strauss: Christian Ihle Hadland (piano), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 31.01.2013 (SRT)

Delius: On the Mountains
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben


Having never heard them live before, and despite the long advocacy of Andrew Litton, I don’t naturally think of the Bergen Philharmonic as being in the top rank of European orchestras. The second half of their visit to Edinburgh challenged that view, but there were some issues to overcome before we got there. The sound the orchestra makes is beautiful but problematic. There is a wonderful sheen to the brass and the winds are full of character. To my ears the strings were more mixed, though. The cellos and basses were superb, and the way they launched Heldenleben was one of the galvanising points of the evening. The violins are clean and beautiful, but to my ears they lacked presence. Bizarrely, they seemed to take a back seat in the orchestral rank and in Delius’ On the Mountains they were frequently overwhelmed by their colleagues. This held back both the Delius and the Grieg.

The performance of the Piano Concerto was orchestrally very solid, but the first movement seemed to just “happen” without a great deal of moment, something you really don’t expect from Grieg’s own orchestra. The cellos and violas were sensational at the opening of the Adagio, though, with a lush, luxuriant tone that, for once, made the most of the withdrawn sound of the muted violins. It was this movement that was most successful, not least because it played most clearly to the skills of Christian Ihle Hadland, who is far from an old school extrovert. His approach to the concerto was predominantly poetic and lyrical, even a little reticent in places, and some of the first movement climaxes failed to take off. The blend and ensemble between him and the orchestra was a little slack at times, too. Thankfully it all came together for the finale, which was exhilarating in its pace but also paused for some moments of gorgeous beauty in the second theme.

After a mixed first half I was a little nervous for the showpiece of Heldenleben, but in the event the orchestra upped their game significantly and provided an account that was taught, exciting and fully together. The strings actually began to lead here, and the moment where the hero’s theme appears on unison strings at the start of the recapitulation (if you can call it that) was really thrilling. The augmented winds also seemed to revel in their role as the critics, playing with precision and sardonic wit, and the brass and percussion took off in the battle scene. Litton, too, came into his own by pacing Strauss’s long span of music with clear judgement and an eye for incidental colour, avoiding any danger of feeling episodic. The second half opened my ears to what a great orchestra this could be; it’s just a shame that we had to wait a while to get there.

Simon Thompson

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere Production of Ravi Shankar’s Sukanya to tour UK in 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Opera Group’s Ring continues with Die Walküre on 9 October __________________________________
  • NEW! 2016-17 Leeds Lieder Concert Series and Advanced Notice about 2017 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! The 11th Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton this October __________________________________
  • NEW! 2016 Oxford Lieder Festival: The Schumann Project (24-29 October) __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Opera announces 2016/17 season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glimmerglass Festival Announces 2017 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Forward to the Swansea International Festival 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Announces 2016/17 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Visiting Orchestras Tour Switzerland 2016/2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s First Season with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Announced __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! OLIVER MEARS TO JOIN ROYAL OPERA HOUSE AS DIRECTOR OF OPERA __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – JOHAN BOTHA (1965-2016) __________________________________
  • NEW! FREE 24-HOUR MUSIC MARATHON AT ST JOHN’S SMITH SQUARE __________________________________
  • NEW! LSO STREAMS VERDI’S REQUIEM LIVE FROM LONDON’S BARBICAN __________________________________
  • NEW! JAN VOGLER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NEW! Interview with Thomas Adès and Tom Cairns about the World Premiere of The Exterminating Angel __________________________________
  • NEW! John Joubert’s Jane Eyre Opera to Receive its First Professional Performance __________________________________
  • NEW! INSIDE AND OUTSIDE CONDUCTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER SEAMAN __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H