BBC Symphony Orchestra Impress on Tour of Switzerland


Clyne, Britten, Beethoven: Vilde Frang (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo (conductor), Tonhalle Maag, Zurich, 24.3.2018. (JR)

Vilde Frang 2014 for Warner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Vilde Frang (c) Marco Borggreve

ClyneThis Midnight Hour

Britten – Violin Concerto op.15

Beethoven – Symphony No.6 op.68

The BBCSO is on a short tour of Switzerland, Zurich and Geneva to be more precise. It is part of the admirable Migros Kulturprozent-Classics programme of visiting orchestras. The programme booklet informed the predominantly Swiss audience that the BBCSO is the flagship of the five UK orchestras funded by the BBC, going on to list its illustrious former Chief Conductors.

Its current Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo, brought two English works to Switzerland, a piece written only a few years ago, This Midnight Hour, by young British composer Anna Clyne, getting its Swiss première; and Britten’s challenging Violin Concerto, about which more anon.

This concert was performed a few evenings ago in Birmingham and readers may have heard it live on BBC Radio 3.

Clyne, now living in America, based her 15-minute piece on two poems, one by Baudelaire, the other by Juan Ramon Jiménez. The latter depicts a naked woman running through the night, whilst Baudelaire’s poem evokes the atmosphere of a more tranquil, melancholic night. The energetic opening of the work brought to mind Siegmund running through the forest being chased by Hunding in Die Walküre; it certainly caught the audience’s attention from the outset. This was highly approachable contemporary music, tending unashamedly towards film music in style. My neighbour said it was the best modern music she had heard for a long while. Two lone (muted) trumpeters stood left and right to add a touch of spectacle, giving their solo contributions more prominence. After a quieter section, the piece climaxes before ending with one single very loud thud from the timpani, perhaps as though waking up suddenly or falling out of bed. The piece was extremely well received.

Britten composed his Violin Concerto just before World War II broke out, and it received its first performance in 1940 (by the New York Philharmonic under Sir John Barbirolli). The piece is suitably sombre, but not without some typical Britten jauntiness and some achingly beautiful passages. Young Norwegian Vilde Frang was the superb soloist; her angelic facial expressions, particularly in the opening movement, added to the celestial aura of this piece. Frang’s technical prowess came to the fore when leaping to the top of the E string and in her double-stopping, but she stunned throughout. The militaristic Shostakovich-imbued second movement (Vivace) contains the lengthy cadenza, and Frang held the audience in the palm of her hand, they were transfixed. Oramo had the measure of the piece, as did the orchestra, but all eyes and ears were on the soloist. The Finale brought Nielsen to mind, before becoming contemplative and ethereal. At the end I swear the whole audience had stopped breathing, it was such a moving experience. Oramo held his hand high at the end for a minute or two, to prevent premature applause, and had no trouble succeeding.

After the Britten, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ was something of an anti-climax but soon cheered us up. This familiar territory needs no introduction, of course. This was the chance for the orchestra to show off his talents, which they duly did with aplomb. The first movement was appropriately joyful, Oramo had a smile on his face throughout. I was taken by the chirpy clarinet, joined in the second movement by the mellifluous flute. Oramo’s sweeping gestures aided the music’s flow, whilst in the storm scene he whipped up quite a frenzy. I had not heard the BBCSO for a while and was impressed with their sound (possibly on occasion rather too loud for the small, temporary concert hall), they were clearly very well-rehearsed, and they certainly compared well with Zurich’s own Tonhalle Orchestra.

Oramo could not resist some of his native music for the encore, which he announced, the delightful Entr’acte from Sibelius’ Pelléas and Mélisande.

 This was the BBCSO’s third visit to Switzerland in recent times and we very much look forward to future visits.

John Rhodes


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews



Season Previews

  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month