United Kingdom Grieg, Delius, Vaughan Williams: Guy Braunstein (violin), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 21.2.2015 (MC)
Grieg: Lyric Suite
Delius: Violin Concerto
Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
Symphony No. 6
The reputation of John Storgårds, the BBC Philharmonic’s principal guest conductor, goes from strength to strength. A stunning performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 with this orchestra here at the Bridgewater Hall in autumn 2014 still resonates strongly in the memory and their set of the complete Sibelius symphonies on Chandos is a splendid achievement.
Tonight Storgårds turned his attention to the music of English born composers Vaughan Williams and Delius together with a work from Grieg included seemingly for no other reason than his close friendship with Delius. Opening the concert on the lighter side was Grieg’s highly melodic Lyric Suite a work inspired by a walking holiday in the Norwegian mountains. These four toothsome morsels amuse but in truth contain little else. In keeping with the English theme I would have much preferred to have heard another of Delius’s works such as Brigg Fair or a couple of the tone-poems. Nevertheless, the Grieg was delightfully played.
Much more significant was the Delius Violin Concerto written during the Great War years, a rhapsody for violin and orchestra and played in one continuous movement. With the exception of Tasmin Little, the work’s best known exponent, I couldn’t help thinking there cannot be more than a handful of players with the Delius in their repertoire, including soloist Guy Braunstein who, I doubt, has performed the work too often. Assisted by the unerring sensitivity of the BBC Philharmonic, Braunstein held the audience in thrall creating a spellbinding mood of bittersweet reflection. How gratifying it was to have the opportunity of hearing this concerto that resides on the fringes of the repertoire. Guy Braunstein returned after the interval for Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending an evocative work I never tire of despite Classic FM’s almost daily bombardment on the airwaves. This was a sterling job from Braunstein bringing freshness to this pastoral score from 1914, a reminder of the pre-Great War innocence that was about to be left behind. Using a marvellously sounding Francesco Roggieri (1679) instrument Braunstein’s use of subtle shading and sharpness of focus was magical and the audience was so absorbed you could hear a pin drop.
Making a terrific impact was the principal work of the evening Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 6 most probably the composer’s response to the horrors of the Second World war which had ended with the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Under Storgårds’s baton the performance from the BBC Philharmonic contained a special frission that managed to be both disconcerting and thrilling. Beginning with the thunderous power of the opening so full of angst, catastrophe and martial connotations the cumulative effect was hair-raising. Expertly Storgårds maintained steadfast control throughout ensuring a splendid internal balance of sound. It would be unfair to single out particular players or various sections for special praise in what was a compelling team performance.
Introduced by Petroc Trelawny the concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.