Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic opened their Cadogan Hall concert with music by Bergen-born Edvard Grieg, some of his score for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Within seconds we were reminded of the electricity Gardner can generate. ‘Morning Mood’ and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ have become staled by being used as background music, but the luscious Bergen strings illuminated each piece; ‘Morning Mood’ was magical with the reedy woodwinds bringing light and life to the birdsong, and ‘The Death of Åse’ was expressively nuanced. ‘Anitra’s Dance’ conveyed a sensual delicacy and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ showcased the Bergen bassoonists and the shimmering and sinister colours of the brass.
Then Truls Mørk played Elgar’s Cello Concerto. His reading was interior and restrained. The haunting melancholy of the first movement resembled a lamenting conversation with some beautifully shaded woodwind and string contributions, and then such graveness was transformed into an allegro lightened by Mørk’s airy delivery before the elegiac slow movement was fully captured by Mørk and confreres, part of a performance that was never showy and always deeply committed and musically fresh.
Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra opens ominously before exuberance takes hold in the first movement, the virtuosity of the orchestra now at its best, not least the variety of timbres displayed by the brass. The woodwinds came into their own in ‘Game of the Couples’, light-hearted duets against a rhythmic string accompaniment, with Gardner’s attention to detail and clarity heightening the music’s humorous nature. The central ‘Elegia’ is the heart of the piece, deeply reflective of Bartók’s precarious state of health in 1943, and the World at War, music of the utmost emotional vulnerability, played with unbearable sensitivity. By contrast the fourth movement wears borrowed clothes, satirising Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony. The Finale hints at American influences, perhaps in homage to Koussevitzky who commissioned Concerto for Orchestra for his Boston Symphony and thereby extended the composer’s artistic life at a time of financial and emotional crisis. Gardner and the Bergen Phil were more than equal to the task of visceral communication.
Encores were ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and, from Grieg’s Lyric Suite (orchestrations of some for-piano Lyric Pieces), ‘March of the Dwarfs’ (Troldtog).
- The Bergen PO’s concert in The Anvil, Basingstoke, on January 18 was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, the above Grieg (plus the Arabian Dance from Suite 2, Opus 55) & Bartók, with Baiba Skride in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- Selected Edward Gardner recordings:
- Bergen/Janáček III
- Bergen/Janáček II
- Bergen/Janáček I