On Record – Anders Paulsson, Christian Lindberg – Anders Eliasson: Symphonies 3 & 4, Trombone Concerto (BIS)

Anders Eliasson
Symphony no.3 (1989/2010) (a)
Symphony no.4 (2005) (b)
Trombone Concerto (2000) (c)

Anders Paulsson (soprano saxophone) (a), Christian Lindberg (trombone) (c), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Johannes Gustavsson (a), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo (b) and (c)

BIS 2368SACD [77’03”]

Producers Thore Brinkmann (a) Hans Kipfer and Mats Engström (b) and (c) Engineers Andreas Ruge (a), Fabian Frank (b), Mathias Spitzbarth (c)
Dates: (a) – 8-10 November 2017, Concert Hall, Gothenburg; (b) 23 September 2011, (c) 11 January 2020, Konserthuset, Stockholm

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

BIS issues a follow-up to its ‘4 X Anders Eliasson’ (BIS2270) in this no less fine collection of his Third and Fourth Symphonies – together with a first recorded outing for the Trombone Concerto and featuring musicians who have long been associated with the Swedish composer.

What’s the music like?

Anders Eliasson (1947-2013) enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with the symphony. Among the most notable debuts in the genre of the post-war era, his First Symphony (1986, recorded on Caprice under CAP 21381) prompted a successor as failed to progress beyond sketches, with the Fourth intended as initial part of a trilogy that never materialized due to his untimely death, though the Fifth was commissioned with a date set for its premiere. There are also two chamber symphonies, with the violin concerto Solitary Journey (2010) arguably a symphony in all but designation.

Written for and frequently performed by American-born saxophonist John-Edward Kelly, the Third Symphony was written for alto (Neos NEOS11301) but later revised for soprano sax. Despite Kelly’s objections, this latter instrument undeniably merges even more effectively within its orchestral context. Anders Paulson has its measure as he traverses its five continuous sections – from an agitatedly expectant Quest, via the guardedly expressive Solitude and assaultive Shudders, to a plaintively affecting Sad before dissolving into the postlude that is Mists.

A decade on and the Trombone Concerto continues this integrative and inherently symphonic approach. As with Eliasson’s earlier concertos there are three continuous movements, though here a slow-fast-slow sequence opens with a ruminative Adagio that acts as ‘prologue’ to an extensive Allegro moderato whose frequent restraint yet requires a dexterity and incisiveness such as dedicatee Christian Lindberg typically meets head-on. A keen momentum is no less evident across its eventful course, prior to the ruminative Lento that duly serves as ‘epilogue’.

One of Eliasson’s most often heard works since its Munich premiere, the Fourth Symphony is among his most characteristic in its formal and expressive aims. Here a powerfully wrought Allegro summons up some of this composer’s most uninhibited music; evolving with no little motivic ingenuity to an Adagio whose concertante role for flugelhorn, eloquently rendered by Joakim Agnas, exudes a wistfully evocative tone. A scherzo-like section marked ‘threatening’ then builds to a climax, from where a brief Adagio returns the flugelhorn for a subdued envoi.

Does it all work?

Yes. Although his music could never be mistaken for that of his predecessor Allan Pettersson, Eliasson was similarly unequivocal in a musical language whose seriousness of purpose does not preclude lightness of touch or barbed humour. The latter two pieces here find his idiom at its most refined, unfolding with a cumulative inevitability that could be thought Nordic in its ethos. Performances are uniformly committed, and hopefully Sakari Oramo might yet take the Fourth Symphony to London in his ongoing association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound is on a par with BIS’s numerous other recordings from its Gothenburg and Stockholm venues, with Peter Kislinger’s annotations as informed and insightful as expected given his long-time advocacy of Eliasson’s music. Further such releases would be welcome.

For further information and purchasing options, visit the BIS website For more information on Anders Eliasson, click here, while you can click on the artist names for the websites of Anders Paulsson, Christian Lindberg, Johannes Gustavsson and Sakari Oramo, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

BBC Proms #44 – Soloists, BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra / Sakari Oramo: Ethel Smyth ‘Mass’ & Debussy ‘Nocturnes’

Prom 44 – Nardus Williams (soprano), Bethan Langford (mezzo-soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Božidar Smiljanić (bass), BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Debussy Nocturnes (1897-9)
Smyth Mass in D (1891, rev. 1924) [Proms premiere]

Royal Albert Hall, London

Saturday 20 August 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Photos (c) Chris Christodoulou

His third Prom this season found Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an unlikely yet, in the event, thought provoking double-bill of pieces composed at either end of the same decade and which duly played to the strengths of all those who were taking part.

The music of Ethel Smyth has been a prominent feature of this season and while her Mass in D comes too early in her career to be considered ‘mature’, it does evince many of those traits as defined the operas that followed. Written during a brief flush of adherence to Anglicanism, this is demonstrably a concert rather than liturgical setting (which makes its apparent status as the first Mass heard publicly in England for almost 300 years the more ironic) and, moreover, one of a ‘symphonic’ rather than ‘solemn’ conception despite the audible debt to Beethoven.

Smyth reinforces this aspect by placing the Gloria at the close – thereby making it the finale of a sequence in which the Kyrie, building gradually to a baleful climax before returning to its initial sombreness, becomes an extended introduction to the Credo whose numerous sub-sections facilitate a sonata-form design of no mean formal cohesion and expressive breadth. For their part, the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei function as extended slow movement whose (for the most part) emotional restraint enables the soloists to come to the fore – after which, the Gloria takes its place as a finale not least in terms of drawing on previous themes and motifs through to the forceful though never merely bathetic culmination. That Smythe did not essay a symphony given her evident structural command seems the more surprising.

Tonight’s performance was no less assured than that which Oramo gave at the Barbican (and subsequently recorded, albeit with different soloists) three seasons ago. The soloists made the most of their contributions – Nardus Williams bringing a plaintiveness and elegance that was ideally complemented with Bethan Langford’s warmth and understated fervency, and though Robert Murray’s ardency showed signs of strain, he was no less ‘inside’ his part than Božidar Smiljanić, whose solo was more affecting for its burnished eloquence. The BBC Symphony Chorus responded as one to the full-on contrapuntal writing of those main movements, while Richard Pearce ensured the (too?) extensive organ part did not muddy the orchestral textures. Oramo directed with clear enjoyment a work that, for the most part, justified its 62 minutes.

In the first half, Oramo presided over a searching account of Debussy’s Nocturnes – its three movements still sometimes encountered separately but far more effective heard as a complete entity. Not its least impressive aspect was the ease with which these followed on from each other with a cumulative inevitability – the fugitive shading of Nuages (melting cor anglais playing by Helen Vigurs) leading to the half-lit activity of Fêtes, with its darting gestures and a central march-past of vivid understatement, then on to the sensuous allure of Sirènes.

As enticing as the women’s voices of the BBCSC sounded in this closing movement, it was the fervency with which Oramo infused its recalcitrant content such as made it the natural culmination of the sequence – the final bars dying away with a tangible sense of fulfillment.

Click on the artist names for more information on Nardus Williams, Bethan Langford, Robert Murray, Božidar Smiljanić and Sakari Oramo and for more information on the BBC Symphony Orchestra head to their website. For more on composer Dame Ethel Smyth, click here

In concert – Nicola Benedetti, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo: Romantics in Exile – Korngold & Langgaard

BBC SO/Oramo & Benedetti - Romantics in Exile

Korngold Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 (1945)
Langgaard
Symphony no.1 in B minor BVN32, ‘Mountain Pastorals’ (1908-11)

Nicola Benedetti (violin, below), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Barbican Hall, London
Friday 8 April 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse. Concert photos by James Watkins / BBC

Sakari Oramo has certainly blazed a trail for tackling little-known symphonic works during his tenure at the BBC Symphony Orchestra – witness his recent revival of the Symphony by Dora Pejačević and now that of the First Symphony from Danish anti-hero Rued Langgaard.

One who frequently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, Langgaard (below) could not have had a better start to his career than its premiere with the Berlin Philharmonic and Max Fiedler on 10th April 1913, just before his 20th birthday. Its enthusiastic reception was never repeated in his remaining four decades, the composer traversing various stylistic phases while fighting a psychological battle with the Danish musical establishment. With its inspiration in Sweden’s Kullaberg peninsula, this work remains testament to the vaunting ambition of his younger self.

Steering a cohesive course across this almost hour-long piece whose sizable forces (not least four Wagner tubas) is no easy task, but Oramo succeeded more convincingly than on any of the three commercial recordings. Not least in a first movement, Surf and Glimpses of Sun, whose elongated sonata design and increasingly histrionic climaxes could so easily veer into overkill, rather than yielding a recklessly if purposefully cumulative momentum. Mountain Flowers is a slow movement of no mean eloquence, not least with Oramo encouraging the strings to relish the limelight over its opening and closing stages then towards its expressive apex. The undoubted highlight is Legend, less an intermezzo than a dark-hued formal crux whose ominous atmosphere looks on toward those anguished confessionals which lay ahead.

More conventional is Mountain Ascent, a lively and often playful scherzo whose impetus finds ready contrast with the wistful trio at its centre. Rendered here with suitable deftness, this made an admirable foil to Courage – an expansive finale not without its longueurs yet whose development affords some strikingly evocative orchestration, then an apotheosis for which Oramo not only prepared judiciously, but that the BBCSO kept within focus even as the addition of off-stage brass threatened to send those closing pages spinning out of orbit.

An experience, then, such as only a live performance can provide, and which demonstrably played to the strengths of this partnership. Might one hope that Oramo and the BBCSO give Langgaard’s Sixth, arguably his symphonic masterpiece, at a Proms concert in due course?

A thought occurred that had the Danish film industry maintained its promise prior to the First World War, Langgaard might have found as productive an outlet for his abilities as Korngold had for his during the golden age of Hollywood. The latter’s Violin Concerto was not always the familiar item it has now become, and Nicola Benedetti’s rendering assuredly conveyed its essence. Pointing up the discreet contrast between the themes of its opening Moderato, with a trenchant account of its cadenza, she gave a finely shaped if overly generalized account of its central Romance, then projected the final Allegro’s incisiveness and high-flown melodrama with relish. Nor did she undersell the suavity of Jacob Gade’s tango Jalousie – a piece which, 97 years on, confirms what is possible if a composer does not entirely eschew popular appeal.

For further information on the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s 2021/22 season, click here For more on Erich Korngold and Rued Langgaard, click on the composer names – and click on the artist names for more information on Nicola Benedetti and Sakari Oramo

In concert – Vilde Frang, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo: Beethoven Violin Concerto & Dora Pejačević Symphony

Sakari Oramo

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major Op.61 (1806)
Pejačević
Symphony in F# minor Op.41 (1916-17, rev. 20)

Vilde Frang (violin, below), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Barbican Hall, London
Friday 26 November 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse. Pictures (c) Mark Allan

The latter-day uncovering of music from the past two centuries by female composers has not always been determined by its intrinsic quality yet, on the basis of this evening’s account by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Symphony by Dora Pejačević was certainly worth revival.

Born in Budapest and growing up within the Croatian nobility, Pejačević (1885-1923) early on evolved an idiom whose pivoting on the cusp between late-Romanticism and Modernism was well suited to those large-scale instrumental and, latterly, orchestral works that dominate an output curtailed by her death – from kidney failure – at just 37. Certainly, there is nothing at all cautious about her Symphony in F sharp minor, composed during the later stages of the First World War and a piece audibly indebted to though never merely beholden to its times.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with Vilde Frang on violin perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Dora Peja?evi?: Symphony in F-sharp minor, op. 4 in the Barbican Hall on Friday 26 Nov. 2021. Photo by Mark Allan

Surprisingly, the opening movement is in most respects the weakest – its main Allegro failing to sustain the impact of its impressive slow introduction (Brahms’s First Symphony the likely precursor), in terms of questing harmonic trajectory or purposeful momentum, once the lyrical if rather flaccid second theme has taken hold. The development relies more on rhetoric than motivic ingenuity over its too brief course, followed by an awkwardly modified reprise then a coda whose glowering intensity reveals an intermittent tendency to overscore for the brass.

Such failings are largely absent from what follows. Centred on a soulful melody given to cor anglais, the Andante builds methodically while irresistibly to its pathos-laden climax before subsiding into the lower reaches of the woodwind; while the Scherzo (better placed second in context) utilizes tuned percussion to underpin a progress whose rhythmic vitality is unusual in symphonies from this era. The final Allegro revisits the first movement’s emotional angst, but its relative succinctness on the way to an ultimately cathartic peroration feels securely judged.

Such, at any rate, was the impression left by this performance – the BBCSO responding with alacrity to Sakari Oramo’s belief in music scored, for the most part, with no little imagination for forces including triple woodwind, six horns and four trumpets. If not the masterpiece some might like to believe, Pejačević’s Symphony is evidently worth revival as frequently as, say, that by Korngold – a potent of what this composer would surely have gone on to create. That she enjoyed only a short-lived maturity need not detract from extent of her legacy as it stands.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with Vilde Frang on violin perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Dora Peja?evi?: Symphony in F-sharp minor, op. 4 in the Barbican Hall on Friday 26 Nov. 2021. Photo by Mark Allan

Despite sustaining a hand injury, Vilde Frang took the stage in the first half for a reading of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (replacing that by Stravinsky) as brought the genial and restive aspects of its expansive first movement into effortless accord; after which, the variations of the Larghetto were exquisitely delineated then the humour of the final Rondo shot-through with an incisiveness through to the emphatic close. Among the most astute of accompanists, Oramo drew felicitous playing from the BBCSO’s woodwind and a reduced string-section.

As encore, Frang gave an eloquent take on Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, Haydn’s theme for the variations in his ‘Emperor’ Quartet. Hopefully those still trying to reconcile the movement-headings of the Pejačević as given erroneously for the Beethoven were not unduly distracted.

For the repertoire in this concert, listen to the Spotify playlist below:

For further information on the concert, click here For more on Dora Pejačević, click here – and for more on soloist Vilde Frang, here

BBC Proms – Timothy Ridout, BBC SO / Oramo: Arnold, Walton, Foulds & Bray

BBCSO_Oramo_Ridout_09_CR.Chris Christodoulou

Timothy Ridout (viola), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Foulds Le cabaret Op.72a (1921) [Proms premiere]
Walton
Viola Concerto (1928-9, rev. 1961)
Bray
 Where Icebergs Dance Away (2021) [UK premiere]
Arnold
Symphony no.5 Op.74 (1960-61) [Proms premiere]

Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 27 August 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse; pictures BBC / Chris Christodoulou

Sakari Oramo tonight returned to the Proms for the first of two concerts as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in a typically wide-ranging programme of British music as commenced with the overture La cabaret that John Foulds penned as incidental music before it became an autonomous item. For all its vaudevillian aura and unabashed razzmatazz, this ‘Overture to a French Comedy’ throws in numerous stylistic curveballs to point up its intent such as Oramo, given an advocacy of this composer stretching back over two decades, underlined with relish.

Although Walton’s music of the 1920s evinces a not dissimilar extroversion, a very different aspect of the composer is evident in his Viola Concerto – heard this evening in its revision for reduced forces but a notable role for harp. It also brought a Proms debut for Timothy Ridout, his burnished tone and unfaltering intonation much in evidence in the first movement with its smouldering pathos and brief if volatile flights of fancy (qualities which suggest Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto as the most likely model) that were carefully integrated into the whole.

The central Vivo was the undoubted highlight of this performance – Ridout’s passagework unflagging even at the tempo indicated by the revision, not least in those syncopated asides that amply delineate the spirit of the times. By contrast, the finale began reticently then only gradually intensified towards a climactic tutti that brought out the best in the BBCSO; after which, Ridout’s take on the coda made it seem almost parenthetical in its overt rumination, while rounding off the whole work with appropriate inevitability and unforced eloquence.

After the interval, a first hearing in the UK for Where Icebergs Dance Away – the most recent orchestral piece by Charlotte Bray, whose Cello Concerto was a highlight of the 2016 season. Inspired by the icy landscapes encountered on a visit to Greenland, this brief yet atmospheric piece – a faster central episode placing the relative stasis on either side into meaningful relief – suggested qualities of greater organic growth and emotional intensification which deserved to be expounded on a larger scale, while never feeling underdeveloped in the present context.

It may have taken six decades to appear at the Proms, but Sir Malcolm Arnold‘s Fifth Symphony – if not the finest of his cycle, is surely its most representative by dint of those confrontational extremes which, in the opening Tempestuoso alone, pit acerbic irony against expressive angst as threaten to overwhelm the movement’s formal logic. That it failed to do so was testament to Oramo’s acuity in keeping this music’s seeming excesses within relative proportion – not least in the violent irresolution of the closing pages, with their stark withdrawal into silence.

Featuring one of Arnold’s most potent melodies, the Andante brought a rapt response by the BBCSO strings and if Oramo drew less than the ultimate terror from the central climax, the transition to the pensive second theme then return to the initial melody were breathtakingly achieved. Neither was there any lack of malevolence or sardonic humour in the scherzo – its energy carrying over into a finale that was paced superbly to a climactic restatement of the Andante‘s melody and its collapse into nothingness. A fitting close to an impressive reading.

You can find more information on the BBC Proms at the festival’s homepage. Click on the composer’s names for more information on Charlotte Bray and Sir Malcolm Arnold, while for more on Timothy Ridout click here