Traditional programme of high quality from Gardner and the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Brahms: Johan Dalene (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 27.9.2023. (JR)

Edward Gardner conducts violinist Johan Dalene and the London Philharmonic Orchestra © LPO

Mendelssohn – Overture, The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave)
Sibelius – Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Brahms – Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

The traditional concert offering of a well-known overture, concerto and symphony should have guaranteed a full hall, but sadly there were large empty areas in the corners of the back terrace. On a positive note, there were many classes of schoolchildren in evidence. Let us hope a few caught the bug and will become part of the audience of the future.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Grand Tour of Europe, at the tender age of 20, took in Italy, France and Switzerland before venturing north to England, Wales and Scotland. Leipzig being very far from the sea, his sight and experience of the Atlantic off the west coast of Scotland would have been novel, assuming his crossing from France to Dover, on a boat much larger than that which took him to the islands of the Hebrides, was calm and uneventful. Mendelssohn, in his own words, said Welsh music gave him toothache but he was ‘extraordinarily affected’ by the trip to the Scottish isles (especially not having the benefit, in those days, of seasickness pills) and went on to write one of the greatest pictorial Romantic overtures, at an age when most children are barely out of school. We can almost smell the sea, experience its swell, hear the howling wind and the waves dashing against the rocks; Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra had the score under their skin and dashed off a thrilling opening to this concert.

I must admit I had not heard of young violinist Johan Dalene, a Swedish-born Norwegian national. He is still only 23: he won the prestigious Carl Nielsen Competition four years ago and is already making a mark. Last year he was named Gramophone’s Young Musician of the Year and will this season become the Artist in Residence at both the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as well as the Gavle Symphony Orchestra in Sweden. He is making his debut appearances with the Czech Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Spanish National Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, so he is clearly on a fast track. He gave his debut with the LPO in Saffron Walden, with the Sibelius concerto, last autumn. He has been working closely with Janine Jansen over recent years, his other mentors include Leif Ove Andsnes and Gidon Kremer. He plays a 1725 Stradivarius, on loan of course.

Dalene opened the Sibelius Violin Concerto very quietly, or was it tentatively, I was unsure. Nerves seemed to be apparent in front of a large hall and audience, but he grew in stature and confidence as the concerto progressed. The final movement (Allegro, ma non tanto) was Dalene’s best, full of youthful energy. Technical obstacles such as the many double-stops and harmonics were no hindrance, intonation was secure. There was perhaps no particular discernible interpretation, this will no doubt come as he matures. The orchestra injected blasts of Finnish granite, Sibelius the symphonist is never far away in this work. Gardner was ever mindful of Dalene’s entries and tempi. At times the balance went somewhat awry, the orchestra a mite too loud, the soloist too soft. There were many schoolchildren in the audience who will have marvelled at how such a youngster can already scale such heights. Dalene  then offered us the Scherzo from the Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice, Op.6, by Fritz Kreisler, which demands technical virtuosity and which Dalene, now relaxed, scampered through gleefully. We shall, I have no doubt, see and hear much more of Dalene as his repertoire widens and his confidence grows. Full marks to Edward Gardner for nurturing this young talent musician and bringing him to our wider attention.

Brahms was a middle-aged 43 by the time he completed his First Symphony. He was anxious that he could never match up to Beethoven’s example. Of course, now we know he need not have had any such qualms. His masterly First Symphony is thrillingly engineered and brim full of melody.

Edward Gardner conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra © LPO

Gardner and his orchestra had a very firm grasp of the symphony. The arresting opening, stirring finale and beautiful closing pages had clearly been the subject of repeated and very successful rehearsal, they made a deep and satisfying impression. Gardner took a virile view of the work, digging deep and injecting grim, rhythmic determination whenever required. This was an uplifting performance of a great work.

Several players caught my attention: Pieter Schoeman’s ravishing solo violin, as well as guest principal oboe Rainer Gibbons and principal clarinet Benjamin Mellefont for their fine solo contributions. Confident and experienced timpanist Simon Carrington is an asset to any orchestra, always worth hearing and watching.

This performance was filmed for future broadcast by Marquee TV.

John Rhodes

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