From Tell to Firebird – Music with Family Appeal

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi, Prokofiev, Stravinsky: James Ehnes (violin), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 22.2.2013 (MC)

Rossini: William Tell overture
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2
Stravinsky: The Firebird (complete)

Noseda, photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Noseda, photo credit Chris Christodoulou

I only caught Gianandrea Noseda’s last couple of seasons as chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. I wish I had attended a lot more during the tenure of the Milan born maestro but circumstances did not allow. Although I have become a great admirer of the orchestra’s new chief conductor Juanjo Mena it feels like the best of both worlds to have Gianandrea Noseda regularly returning to the BBC Philharmonic as their conductor laureate. Already this season Noseda has given a performance of Alfredo Casella’s Symphony No. 3 that will live long in the memory.

The concert formed part of the BBC Philharmonic’s Journey though Music series designed to appeal to families with 8-14 year old children. This is a splendid initiative offering families special discounts for concerts and a pleasing number of children were present too. Clearly proud to present music from his home country it was typical of Noseda to open this concert with a score by a great Italian composer and Rossini’s substantial William Tell overture fitted the bill perfectly. In this much loved score Noseda with a real sense of purpose led a marvellously exuberant performance that really took wing. Who can fail to love the appealing prelude with its notable cello solo marred only slightly by one short intonation lapse. Heralded by trumpets the famous charging Finale: March of the Swiss Soldiers still known by many as The Lone Ranger theme never fails to delight.

I’m not sure why Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 was chosen as suitable for this children friendly concert. More about mood than melody, the score certainly has little in the way of dazzling virtuosic display. This was a workmanlike performance from James Ehnes who might as well be the house violinist, he seems to appear at the Bridgewater Hall so often. The beautiful singing line in the Andante movement delivered so sincerely was probably his best moment. Generally everything was correctly formed but there was nothing conveyed by way of awe.

After this stunning performance from the BBC Philharmonic there is no one that I would rather have conduct the complete score of Stravinsky’s The Firebird than maestro Noseda. With the athletic Italian maestro demanding dynamic energy levels from the orchestra, their playing generated a tremendous thrust. By contrast the enchanting Round Dance of the Princesses and the bewitching Lullaby of the Firebird were stroked with a feather-light wonderment. Playing with such satisfying unity it seems wrong somehow to single out particular sections from the orchestra for special praise. However, the BBC Philharmonic strings have in recent years developed a glorious tone and the woodwind excelled, especially the principal oboist who all evening made the most of her opportunities to shine. In the dynamic Finale the effect was quite dramatic with lots of decibels. How the ecstatic Bridgewater Hall audience cheered! On this form Maestro Noseda is welcome back anytime.

This concert was recorded by the BBC Radio 3 for broadcast at 2.00pm on Friday 1st March 2012.

Michael Cookson