Bergen Philharmonic Galvanises Audience with Heldenleben

February 1, 2013

United KingdomUnited Kingdom 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were sensational at the opening of the Adagio, though, with a lush, luxuriant tone that, for once, made the most of the withdrawn sound of the muted violins.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 are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

  • NEW! The Salzburg Festival 2016 Unveiled __________________________________
  • NEW! 2016 UK Tour Dates for Carlos Acosta’s A Classical Farewell __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square Unveils its 30th Christmas Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Preview Lucerne Festival 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2015-16 Season of Dance and Music at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen Staging of Gianni Schicchi to Open LA Opera’s 2015/16 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Cincinnati 2015-2016 Season: Things to Come __________________________________
  • NEW! Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of – Ex Cathedra Announce 2015-16 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Winslow Hall Prepares for La Traviata __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square Announces its 2015/16 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Visiting Orchestras Tour Switzerland 2015/16 __________________________________
  • Receive Our Daily Review Summary
    Email *


    bertrand again-2

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! Saffron Opera Group to Perform Wagner’s Ring Starting in January 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! NCEM Hosts First Major Emerging European Ensembles Residency in the UK __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Announces Young Singers’ Competition Winner __________________________________
  • NEW! The Musical Loders of Bath – Study Day __________________________________
  • NEW! Bruce Dickey on the Cornetto and the Vespers __________________________________
  • NEW! NCEM Young Composers Award 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sir David Willcocks, CBE, MC. 30 December 1919 – 17 September 2015 __________________________________
  • NEW! New Energy in Early Music in the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Matthew White __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Rape of Lucretia Seen Streaming __________________________________
  • Search Seen Heard and Music Web International

    Reviews by Reviewer