BBC Proms #42 – Jan Lisiecki, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard: Nielsen, Beethoven & Sibelius

Prom 42 – Jan Lisiecki (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard

Sibelius Symphony no.7 in C major Op.105 (1924)
Beethoven Piano Concerto no.4 in G major Op.58 (1804-6)
Nielsen Symphony no.4 FS76 ‘The Inextinguishable’ (1914-16)

Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 18 August 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Photos (c) Chris Christodoulou

Ending his tenure as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard directed this programme which once again played to both his and the orchestra’s strengths – in the process underlining just what they have achieved together over the past six seasons.

He might not have scheduled Sibelius quite so assiduously as his one-time predecessor Osmo Vänskä, but Dausgaard is hardly less perceptive in this composer as was proven with his take on the Seventh Symphony. If not a tale of two parts, the first half that resonated more deeply – an introduction shot through with expectancy that preceded a powerful build-up to the first emergence of the trombone theme, and an effortlessly accelerating ‘scherzo’ as made feasible a central climax of rare intensity. From here tension dropped a little over the course of a lucid yet (in this context) over-extended ‘intermezzo’, and if the approach to the final return of the trombone theme had the right inexorability, the strings’ climactic response was a little reined-in emotionally. Nor did the fraught cadence into the home-key have the desired inevitability.

Whether or not the Sibelius should open a concert, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto made for an ideal continuation. Stepping in at the eleventh hour, Jan Lisiecki is no stranger to this music such that his lightly articulated if rarely insubstantial tone complemented Dausgaard’s incisive but never headlong accompaniment. Just occasionally in the opening movement this jewel-like pianism felt a little self-defeating, though not with a lucid rendering of the (more familiar) cadenza or transition from the Andante into the finale of heart-stopping eloquence. The latter movement had the necessary vigour but also an appealing intimacy, as in the lower strings’ transition towards the final return of the rondo theme or those ruminative woodwind asides before the decisive coda. Chopin’s C minor Nocturne (1838) made for a limpid encore.

Keen to get on with proceedings, Dausgaard launched Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony after the interval before applause had subsided. Often a conductor willing to modify his approach, he might have steered the opening Allegro less forcefully given the textural detail that was lost in the Albert Hall’s ample expanse, but the twofold appearances of the ‘motto’ theme were magisterially rendered – the shocked transition into the intermezzo proving as mesmeric as this latter movement was affecting through its deft combination of winsomeness and pathos.

Equally memorable was Dausgaard’s handling of the slow movement, here exuding fervency without undue histrionics both in the searching string threnodies and the confiding passages either side – the latter of which provided a stealthy transition into the final Allegro. Here the placing of a second timpani set front-left in the arena made stretched the antiphonal contrast a little too obviously, but the music’s overall intent came across unscathed as the ‘motto’ made its climactic final appearance then those closing bars hit the ground as they should – running. Whether or not Dausgaard intended ‘Inextinguishable’ to sum up his music-making with the BBCSSO, or whether anything might be read into his wearing a Covid mask throughout, this concert was a worthy leave-taking. Hopefully he will not be absent from the UK for too long.

Click on the artist names for more information on Jan Lisiecki and Thomas Dausgaard, and for more information on the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra head to their website

1 thought on “BBC Proms #42 – Jan Lisiecki, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard: Nielsen, Beethoven & Sibelius

  1. An interesting and informative review, Mr Whitehouse. I have to take issue, however, with your comment that Lisiecki’s encore was a “limpid” choice. If you were truly familiar with Lisiecki’s performances you would already know that ostentatious, virtuoso encores have never been his style. Instead, he has said that his encores are carefully chosen in order to bring some quiet, reflective time to an audience who has just witnessed the drama and often excitable conclusion to the concerto. His Chopin Nocturne was played with his usual delicacy, tranquillity, and exquisite emotion which, as always, brought tears to my eyes. Bravo Mr Lisiecki! Once again you have played to the soul of the listener and I thank you for that.

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