BBC Philharmonic’s Afternoon Tonal Silk and Satin in Salford Quays

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Delius, Beethoven, Sibelius: Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), BBC Philharmonic / Rory Macdonald (conductor), BBC Philharmonic Studio. MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, 27.10.2017. (RBa)

Delius – EventyrOnce Upon a Time 

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.4

Sibelius – King Christian II suite

These free studio concerts in Salford Quays, featuring an ever-changing span of conductors and soloists, young and old, feed the BBC’s Afternoon on Three strand. Generally they are recorded for future broadcast but this one was relayed live and can still be heard (for a month only) on the BBC’s iPlayer service (click here). The excellent BBC Phil is also a busy concert-giver throughout the North-West of England, usually in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and beyond. Its programmes, genuinely provocative, compare very favourably, in terms of ground new and ground re-tilled, with the other Manchester orchestra, the Hallé.

These Salford Quays concerts break all the rules. They are held in the afternoons, which cannot help but close the door on many of those working. There is no interval so I can be home after a 40 minute drive on the M62 by 4pm. missing the bulk of the departing-Manchester traffic. It is all very welcome indeed. The free-wheeling programmes tend to explore composers and pieces you will not hear in the concert hall. The coming mid-week concert juxtaposes Berg, Webern and Joseph Marx.

Delius’s Eventyr, with more drama than the generality of his music, should appeal to people allergic to this composer. It feels more like a genuine tone-poem than an atmospheric mood miniature. That said, Delius intended to conjure the sense of Nordic legends rather than any particular saga. In that sense it parallels works such as Sibelius’s En Saga and Bax’s Winter Legends and Northern Ballads. There is no bar-by-bar plotline to follow.

The studio stage was crowded with a weightily-toned orchestra for the Delius: two harps, celesta, xylophone, tambourine and substantial numbers elsewhere. The ebb and flow of the music was nicely put across. Delicate work throughout included some breathtaking quiet held-notes for the horns. As this fifteen minute work progressed, I could not help but be impressed with various episodes: tubular bells redolent of de Falla’s El Amor Brujo, skeletal work for the xylophone (quite unlike Saint-Saëns), “death-hunt’ horns at full stretch and finally a moving sense of falling away.

Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov should be putting in more appearances in concerts and broadcasts. His Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto  had its pounding excitements but always immersed in a gift for a peachy softness of tone. This combines fruitfully with the music’s halting eloquence and chuckling flurries. Kolesnikov’s quiet playing is phenomenal in treading the spidery and affecting borderland between silence and audibility. An attentive Rory Macdonald kept close and clear contact with the soloist. The notes simultaneous between piano and orchestra were very pleasingly spot-on. It is a joyous work, here joyously played.

Lighter early Sibelius is popular in the concert-hall. His Karelia and Finlandia are staples of concert programming. The King Christian II suite is drawn from the incidental music for the play by Adolf Paul. It would perhaps have been a temptation to skate over the surface but this performance refused to do that. It impressed time after time. Little details tell: including the seamless handover mid-phrase between clarinet and bassoon in the opening Nocturne. Then there is the tenderness of the Elegie—surely inspiration for Herrmann’s music for The Ghost and Mrs Muir. The score looks forward to the stately dignity of The Tempest in the Serenade, and closes in thunder and mordant attack in the Ballade.

Rob Barnett

Leave a Comment