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

BBC Proms #41 – Behzod Abduraimov, Elizabeth Watts, Benjamin Appl, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard: Nielsen ‘Sinfonia espansiva’, Beethoven & Ravel

Prom 41 – Behzod Abduraimov (piano), Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Benjamin Appl (baritone), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard

Ravel La Valse (1919-20)
Beethoven Piano Concerto no.1 in C major Op.15 (1795, rev. 1800)
Nielsen Symphony no.3 ‘Sinfonia espansiva’ (1910-11)

Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 17 August 2022

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood Photos (c) Mark Allan

There is a changing of the guard in Glasgow. On his way in as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is the conductor, composer and pianist Ryan Wigglesworth, an exciting and evolving artist. He will replace Thomas Dausgaard, who leaves City Halls after six years and is signing off with two consecutive Proms of symphonies by his Danish compatriot, Carl Nielsen.

We began this concert in Paris, however, with a distinctly chilly account of Ravel’s La Valse. The horrors of the First World War encroach into Ravel’s writing, and were all too audible around the edges in this performance, which was brilliantly played and lucidly controlled. The feather-light strings of the opening bars ensured the dynamic contrasts were extreme, and when the full orchestra cut loose towards the end the effect was both exhilarating and terrifying, the ‘fatal whirring motion’ of Ravel’s inspiration collapsing in the final bars.

Dynamic contrasts were a feature, too, in a fine performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.1, with soloist Behzod Abduraimov. The Uzbek pianist was the ideal foil for the clarity of the reduced forces of the BBC SSO, giving an affectionate performance notable for its dance-like qualities. There were occasional rhythmic indulgences in the solo party, but these were both tasteful and well-managed, with Dausgaard alive to his flights of fancy. The dialogue with the orchestra was often exquisite, especially when piano and clarinet (Yann Ghiro) linked in the slow movement. Time stood still for an early example of one of Beethoven’s heavenly silences, before the Rondo danced its way into the minds of the audience for the interval. Stylishly played and with some attractive, witty touches, this was an endearing account of high technical quality. Abduraimov’s encore was slightly at odds with the feather-light touches displayed in the Beethoven, being a heavyweight performance of Mercutio from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet transcriptions for piano. There were fireworks and great virtuosity, though the significance of choosing a Ukrainian-born composer should not be overlooked.

Dausgaard returned after the interval to conduct his compatriot’s ‘most Danish’ symphony. David Gutman’s ever-helpful Proms notes revealed that Nielsen’s Sinfonia espansiva was somehow not performed at the Proms until 1990, and even this was its first Royal Albert Hall performance in 23 years. It was a memorable encounter, the high voltage first movement immediately into gear with its repeated notes surging forward, bursting through the dam. The exultant first movement was complemented by the radiance of the second, with wordless vocals from on high in the gallery supplied by soprano Elizabeth Watts and baritone Benjamin Appl. The combination, over hushed strings, enchanted the hall and made the best possible use of its spatial options. Surrounding their contributions were winsome cadenzas from the BBC Scottish woodwind, portraying the great Danish outdoors with crisp outlines.

The third movement built its energy cumulatively, all the while pointing towards the finale, where we heard the Danish ‘ode to joy’ in luxurious tones from assembled strings and horns. This was music of wide-eyed optimism, galvanizing orchestra, audience and conductor alike to an emphatic signing off. With contributions from golden brass and thundering timpani, this performance was truly expansive – and served to emphasise what the Proms audiences have been missing with this symphony all these years!

For more information, click on the names to discover more on the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and their new chief conductor Ryan Wigglesworth

Playlist: Herbert Blomstedt at 95

by Ben Hogwood

To mark the 95th birthday of the great Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt on Monday just gone, Arcana has put together a playlist including a snapshot of some of his greatest and most enduring recordings.

They include the Fifth Symphony of Nielsen, part of a landmark cycle of the composer’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for Decca. Blomstedt’s recordings with that orchestra in the 1990s were notable for their sonic prowess but left some critics cold; however on revisiting his Sibelius cycle, for instance, they stand up very well. The Third Symphony is included here, as is the first Peer Gynt Suite of Grieg.

Also in the 1990s came a trio of fascinating discs lending weight to the cause of Paul Hindemith. A disc of the Mathis der Maler Symphony, the Symphonic Metamorphoses and Trauermusik was to be expected, perhaps, but the follow-ups were even more valuable – a disc of the music for Nobilissima Visione, the Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings and Der Schwanendreher, and a pairing of the Symphonia Serena and symphony from the opera Die Harmonie der Welt, included here.

Blomstedt has more recently recorded a well-received Brahms cycle with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, though prior to that recorded a fine disc of the composer’s choral works in San Francisco. With the Gewandhaus, however, he has completed his most recent release, that of Schubert’s Unfinished and Great symphonies. The former is included here. Enjoy this selection of wonderful recordings!

In concert – Clare Hammond, CBSO / Michael Seal: Nielsen, Grieg & Sibelius

clare-hammond-grieg

Nielsen Helios Overture FS32 (1903)
Grieg
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 (1868)
Sibelius
Symphony No. 1 in E minor Op. 39 (1898-9)

Clare Hammond (piano, above), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Michael Seal

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 9 March 2022 (2.15pm)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

A Scandinavian programme this afternoon from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, featuring music by the three most famous of this region’s composers (so no representation for Sweden), and presided over with his customary authority by CBSO’s associate conductor Michael Seal.

Unusual nowadays to have a programme consisting of overture, concerto and symphony – but Nielsen’s Helios is as fine a curtain-raiser as any, its ‘sunrise to sunset’ scenario captured with one of the most graphic crescendos and diminuendos in the literature. Seal ensured this gradual emergence, and its faster evanescence, were unerringly paced – the horns’ echoing sonorities enfolded into the orchestral texture; and if the intervening intermezzo and fugato rather tread water by comparison, their role within the formal scheme made for a cohesive overall entity.

Whether or not Grieg tired of hearing or at least playing his Piano Concerto, he would surely have appreciated Clare Hammond’s take on its solo part. The inedible opening gesture might have been less than usually arresting, but the opening movement proceeded methodically and often poetically so its structural seams were barely in evidence – culminating in a resourceful account of the cadenza with the composer’s motivic ingenuity much in evidence. Easy to pass off as a bland interlude, the Adagio had an appealing poise that opened into keen pathos at its height. Trenchant rather than impetuous, the outer sections of the finale were rarely less than engaging but it was the warm soulfulness at the centre that really struck home; its return for a triumphal apotheosis did not quite avoid portentousness, but it ensured a decisive conclusion.

A distinctive and, for the most part, convincing performance which Hammond followed with the caressing harmony of the eleventh from Szymanowski’s Op. 33 Etudes – music in marked contrast to the existential drama of Sibelius’s First Symphony which came after the interval.

The latter work’s emergence against a background of fraught self-determination has inevitably taken on far greater resonance during recent weeks, and it was to Seal’s credit that he played down any tendency to overt sentiment – rendering the first movement, its sombre introduction limpidly realized by Oliver Janes, as the striking and frequently innovative study in expressive contrasts it should be. Nor was there any lack of Tchaikovskian pathos in the Andante, whose whimsical passages were as vividly delineated as those eruptive outbursts towards its climax.

The ensuing Scherzo had the right rhythmic tensility and, in its central trio, enticing whimsy – but it was the Finale as set the seal on this performance. The ‘Quasi una fantasia’ marking can result in emotional overkill but Seal kept its prolix follow-through in focus at all times – whether with the anguished recall of the work’s initial theme, surging impetus of its swifter sections, or the heart-on-sleeve immediacy of its ‘big tune’; pervaded by an ambivalence to the fore in a peroration which (almost) avoided histrionics on the way to its fatalistic close.

A fine response from the CBSO, playing here with burnished eloquence and Matthew Hardy making the most of a timpani part that has structural as well as expressive significance. Few having heard it are likely to underestimate this work’s status in Sibelius’s symphonic output.

For more information on the CBSO’s current season, visit their website. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, click on the names to access the websites of Clare Hammond and Michael Seal

Wigmore Mondays – Marnis Petersen & Camillo Radicke: Anderswelt (The Otherworld)

Marnis Petersen (soprano, above), Camillo Radicke (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 23 September 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

A song recital that was truly out of this world.

German coloratura soprano Marnis Petersen and pianist Camillo Radicke brought the concept of their most recent recording, Dimensionen: Anderswelt, to the Wigmore Hall for an hour of 20 songs by no fewer than 18 composers.

The description ‘coloratura soprano’ depicts a singer that specialises in an operatic style, often high in the register – and that fits the music in this extraordinary collection. Most of the songs – and a couple of the composers – will surely have been new even to the most devoted Wigmore Hall attendee, and as Petersen and Radicke threaded the links cleverly through sections entitled The Otherworld, Elves, Mermaids and Mermen and Northern Lights, they plotted a course from deepest Germany to northern Iceland.

To begin Petersen read a short passage before the first group of five songs. Hans Pfitzner’s Lockung (Temptation) (2:25), with its twinkling piano and entreating mermaids, beckoned us in to the first of the Elves sections. Here we found Reger depicting a ‘pert and wanton’ elf, to a suitably heady vocal from Petersen, then the first of three settings of Eichendorff’s Elfe poem from Bruno Walter (7:28).

Camillo Radicke was superb here, with the insistent trills high up in the piano’s register, over which Petersen floated beautifully. Julius Weismann’s setting of the same text (9:43) again opted for the high register, this time in an attractive triple time dance. Though written in the same year as the Walter, it felt considerably older – and transitioned nicely to Brahms, setting Heine’s seductive water nymph in Sommerabend (Summer evening) (11:21), which found Petersen’s vocal control in very fine shape.

The Mermaids and Mermen section, again five songs in length, had an intriguing juxtaposition of composers. Hans Sommer’s Lore im Nachen (Lore in the skiff) found Radicke catching the ‘shimmer in the evening gold’ on a tranquil lake, as Petersen again soared high in the register. Grieg’s Med en Vandlilje (With a water lily) (18:09) introduced a wary atmosphere with the lurking water sprite (18:09) before Carl Loewe, heard to such great effect in Benjamin Appl and Kristian Bezuidenhout’s recital the previous week, was at it again with the boldly descriptive Der Nöck (The nix) (20:46). The nix (Petersen) and its harp (Radicke) were both strikingly portrayed, and Petersen’s vocal was superb. Sinding’s Ich fürcht’ nit Gespenster (I fear no ghosts) (29:18) was also a striking song, appropriately ghoulish in its coda from Radicke after Petersen had confidently confronted her spectres. Finally we heard a pupil of Hindemith, Harald Genzmer, and the agitated Stimmen im Strom (Voices in the river) (31:32)

To another quintet of songs on Elves, beginning with the cheeky Elfenlied, Wolf’s subject humourously caught by Petersen, who sang into the piano as her subject staggered about having banged his head. Friedrich Gulda’s setting of Elfe – the third of the concert – was a collector’s item (37:34), the 16-year old intriguingly matching the other two in the high treble area for an impish setting. Carl Loewe’s second appearance was with the operatic Die Sylphide (39:20), Petersen’s voice again reaching sparkling heights. Franz Schreker’s Spuk (Spook) (41:42) felt like some of the most modern music here, flitting about with uncertainty and tension, while in a rare outing for the music of conductor-composer Hermann Zumpe, Liederseelen (Song-Souls) (43:58) was affectionately sung.

Petersen and Radicke saved the most adventurous part of their concert until last, with four songs from Scandinavia and Iceland. Ariels Sang (48:06) was a rapturous contribution from Nielsen, boldly delivered, before Sinding reappeared with Majnat (May night) (50:26), a more thoughtful affair. Swedish composer Stenhammar’s Fylgia (53:25) was fulsome and florid in its praise of the spirit, but Sigvaldi KaldalónsHamraborgin (Castle crags) (55:46) painted its subject with uncanny atmosphere, depicting the rarefied atmosphere of the Northern Lights. Petersen capped her vocal performance here with a stunning top ‘B’ at the end.

It was a great way to finish – though after Radio 3 had departed there was another gem in store courtesy of the Finnish composer Yrjö Kilpinen, and an encore of his song Berggeist.

This was a recital of great imagination and technical brilliance. As an introduction to the classical song it would present some challenges to the casual listener, but with the enchantment offered by Petersen and Radicke’s partnership it would prove difficult to resist. Those familiar with the world – or otherworld in this case – should dive right in, as there will definitely be something new!

Repertoire

Marnis Petersen and Camillo Radicke performed the following songs (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

The Otherworld

Pfitzner Lockung Op.7/4 (1888-9) (2:25)

Elves I

Reger Maiennacht Op.76/15 (1903-4) (5:23)
Walter Elfe (1910) (7:28)
Weismann Elfe Op.43/4 (1909-10) (9:43)
Brahms Sommerabend Op.85/1 (1878) (11:21)

Mermaids and Mermen

Sommer Lore im Nachen Op.13/1 (publ. 1891) (15:25)
Grieg Med en Vandlilje Op.25/4 (1876) (18:09)
Loewe Der Nöck Op.129/2 (1857) (20:46)
Sinding Ich fürcht’ nit Gespenster (1885) (25:42)
Genzmer Stimmen im Strom (1941) (31:32)

Elves II

Wolf Elfenlied (1888) (35:24)
Gulda Elfe (1946) (37:34)
Loewe Die Sylphide Op.9 (1837) (39:20)
Schreker Spuk Op.7/4 (1898-1900) (41:42)
Zumpe Liederseelen (publ. 1895) (43:58)

Northern Lights

Nielsen Ariels Sang (1916) (48:06)
Sinding Majnat Op.22/3 (1893) (50:26)
Stenhammar Fylgia Op.16/4 (1893-7) (53:25)
Kaldalóns Hamraborgin (c. 1910) (55:46)

Encore – Kilpinen Berggeist Op.99/3

Further listening

All the songs in this concert can be heard from Petersen and Radicke’s recording on the Spotify playlist below:

One of many possible further steps is Wings In The Night, a collection of Swedish songs from mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and pianist Bengt Forsberg:

There are so many songs by Carl Loewe that it is difficult to know where you could start. Given his artistry, tenor Christoph Prégardien would seem to be a good bet, this album of songs recorded with pianist Cord Graben: