Dausgaard Begins His Tenure at BBC Scottish SO with Reconstructed Bruckner

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Bruckner: Imogen Cooper (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 25.9.2016 (SRT)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (new critical edition with completed finale, 2012)

Thomas Dausgaard’s first Edinburgh concert as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra featured two last works: Bruckner’s final symphony and Mozart’s final piano concerto.  Having Imogen Cooper as the soloist meant that this most poetic of Mozart’s mature concertos sounded even more refined than usual.  She’s a cultured, restrained sort of soloist, whose piano playing refuses to assert itself intrusively.  Instead she is wholly a part of the texture, nowhere more so than in the final rondo, which had a pleasing sense of piano and orchestra continually finishing one another’s sentences.  Together they played the central Larghetto with such melting beauty that you couldn’t help but hear it as Mozart’s farewell to life, even though you know it really isn’t, and Cooper’s cadenzas were full of consonant sweetness, with never a hint of unnecessary showiness.  Meanwhile, in the orchestra, the light, sweet tone of the violins reminded me that Dausgaard is an acclaimed director of a Chamber orchestra (the Swedish), and the overall softness of the orchestral texture showed that he can refine the sound of a large band every bit as effectively as he can handle a small one.

I wasn’t so convinced by his Bruckner; partly, but not only, because he opted to include the recently finished reconstruction of the finale, albeit in an edition that he himself altered for the Scottish performances.  He argued for it eloquently in his genial pre-concert talk, but I didn’t buy it in performance, mainly because it’s so bitty and often rather patchy.  You could argue with some justification that that’s true of a lot of Bruckner’s music, and the combination of themes at the very end was, admittedly, quite successful.  The fugue was lumbering, however, and for all the energy of the first theme, I found it fragmentary and actually quite reductive.  That’s a shame, because the preceding Adagio worked really well, and could have served as a satisfying end point, with it rich, sweeping string sound and the brass fanfares above the climaxes which reminded me a little of the crackle of Science Fiction film music.   Dausgaard’s control was pretty strong throughout, with a nicely graded opening paragraph to the first movement, featuring ringing brass at the climax and a lilting, Ländlerish feel to the strings’ second subject.  The first movement even had a hint of the dance about it in places, something that carried into a Scherzo which opened with surprising delicacy, for all the heavy harrumphing of its main theme, and an airy Trio section that I can never manage to take seriously.  Maybe I just need to hear that finale a few more times, but for me its rebalancing of the symphony’s centre of gravity just didn’t work.  Still, it’s an admirably adventurous way for Dausgaard to begin his Scottish tenure.  That continues next weekend when he conducts a recreation of Beethoven’s famously epic 1808 Academy Concert.  Watch this space for more.

Simon Thompson

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