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sensational at the opening of the Adagio, though, with a lush, luxuriant tone that, for once, made the most of the withdrawn sound of the muted violins.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

Comments are closed.

Clipboard02

Recent Reviews

Facebook button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Two Berliner Philharmoniker Concerts to be Streamed Live in European Cinemas (February 14, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Wild Men and Fantastic Tales: A Preview of English Touring Opera’s 2015 Season (February 5, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Preview: Wagner Returns to Longborough Festival Opera in 2015 (February 4, 2015) __________________________________
  •  NEW! Celebrating Magna Carta. Preview of Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival
    (February 3, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Cincinnati: Preview: Three Baroque Operas in One Month (February 2, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Preview: Richard Alston Dance Company Embarks on UK Tour (January 30, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! A Coup for the NY Philharmonic: Esa-Pekka Salonen Named Composer-in-Residence Through 2017-2018 (January 23, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! 8th Schloss Laudon Kammermusikfestival to Illuminate More Corners of the 20th Century Quartet Repertoire (January 20, 2015) __________________________________
  •  NEW! Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season 2014/15 Continues: Romance And Revolution: Andrea Chénier (January 17, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Preview: Resolution! Dance Showcase at the Place, London (January 11, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! ‘Bayreuth in Buenos Aires’ And More in Interesting Teatro Colón 2015 Season (Plus Update) (January 4, 2015) __________________________________
  • Buenos Aires Independents’ 2015 Season – Some Gems To Come (November 25, 2014) __________________________________
  • Artists from China, Estonia and Holland head for 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music (November 19, 2014) __________________________________
  • Lucerne Festival Preview 2015 (November 6, 2014) __________________________________
  • Reviews by Reviewer

    Monthly Archive

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! New Director For Teatro Colón (JSJ) (February 4, 2015) __________________________________
  • NEW! Sensitivity And Engagement: The World Of Tasmin Little (December 19, 2014) __________________________________
  • NEW! Beat Furrer and Grigory Sokolov Named Latest Honorary Members of the Wiener Konzerthaus Society (December 18, 2014) __________________________________
  • Dame Fanny Waterman to Step Down from Leeds International Piano Competition after 2015 Competition (December 16, 2014) __________________________________
  • Nine First-Time Winners Revealed at the British Composer Awards 2014 (December 11, 2014) __________________________________
  • Dancers in the Making. John O’Dwyer Visits the English National Ballet School (December 10, 2014) __________________________________
  • Arnaldo Cohen in Conversation with Geoffrey Newman (December 9, 2014) __________________________________
  • National Centre for Early Music Announces Its Young Composers Award 2015 (November 2, 2014) __________________________________
  • Concertmaster Dale Barltrop in Conversation with Geoffrey Newman (October 22, 2014) __________________________________
  • Top 10 Reviewed Cities