Bryn Terfel in full cry and a solid Bruckner Sixth from Alexander Soddy and the Philharmonia

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Wagner, Bruckner: Sir Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Philharmonia Orchestra / Alexander Soddy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London. 26.3.2023. (JR)

Alexander Soddy conducts Sir Bryn Terfel and the Philharmonia © Robert Piwko.

Wagner – Prelude and ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder’ (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg); Prelude to Act 3 (Lohengrin); Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music (Die Walküre)

Bruckner Symphony No.6, WAB 106

This Sunday afternoon Philharmonia Orchestra concert was billed as ‘Bryn Terfel sings Wagner’ but in truth this only amounted to a total of some eighteen minutes in a concert lasting nearly two hours. His fans were, however, not disappointed; they came in droves together with other Wagner devotees. They seemed unconcerned at being fed ‘bleeding chunks’ though there were murmurs from the purists at the interval. Surtitles helped, as did the detailed programme, but some listeners may have been puzzled about what Hans Sachs was bewailing, and what Wotan was actually up to with Brünnhilde and Loge. On the plus side, we heard some of Wagner’s most glorious music played in full bloom by the huge Philharmonia Orchestra in fine form, not buried in the pit of an opera house but full frontal on the concert platform. Terfel was thankful not to be hampered by heavy costumes, spotlights and stage histrionics and was able to ride the orchestral tumult, since he had not needed to sing for, perhaps, two and a half acts of a long Wagner opera beforehand. He was at full cry when needed, tender when appropriate and his voice was rich for every note.

This concert was to have been the welcome return of Esa-Pekka Salonen for the first time since he stepped down in 2021 after thirteen years as Principal Conductor. He is now Conductor Laureate. Sadly, and at the eleventh hour, he succumbed to Covid. The programme had already been printed. In stepped Oxford-born Alexander Soddy, better known to audiences on the Continent than in the UK. Soddy has been General Music Director at the Nationaltheater in Mannheim. Before that, he was Chief Conductor in Klagenfurt, and before that as Kapellmeister in Hamburg. So, he proved to be the perfect replacement in this concert of heavy German and Austrian repertoire. No need to change the programme (though he probably wished Salonen had chosen the Fifth Symphony, having conducted it in Mannheim as part of a Bruckner cycle only last month). Soddy also conducted an entire Ring in Mannheim last summer, together with a new production of Tristan and Isolde and a revival of The Flying Dutchman. Wagner and Bruckner are therefore in his blood, and it showed with his fine command of the works in this concert.

Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is possibly not as fine a work as his Fifth, but it is his cheekiest, to use a word that Bruckner ascribed to it. Soddy understandably kept his nose buried in the score; I suspect he only had the benefit of one full rehearsal. Some rough edges and untidy detail showed possible time restraints but there was no denying Soddy’s affinity with the composer. Soddy maintained a very steady pace and did not hold back the volume for the thrilling climaxes. The Adagio was not allowed to languish. As in the Wagner, the trombone section stood out. Hopefully, the Philharmonia will invite Soddy back in a future season, for some more Bruckner perhaps; only in his forties, he is undoubtedly a man to watch. And no doubt Salonen will make his welcome return, with a different work, at some stage.

John Rhodes

Leave a Comment