BBC Philharmonic Dvořák

The Water Goblin, Op.107
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

James Ehnes (violin)

BBC Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 1 October, 2004
Venue: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

A conflation of whimsy and serious utterance characterised this Dvořák concert, which began with The Water Goblin before exploring the Violin Concerto. A magisterial reading of Symphony No.7 closed the evening (an encore aside) marking two main occasions: the 70th-birthday year of the BBC Philharmonic and the centenary year of Dvořák’s death.

The Water Goblin, despite it being based on a ballad by Erben, is just as compelling in the abstract: the emotions exhibited in the tale of a young woman who is taken as the water goblin’s bride, and the grisly demise of her child, are just as easily made manifest in Dvořák’s musical logic. Thus the announcement of the goblin’s puckish theme and its metamorphoses, interspersed by narrative episodes depicting the fortunes of the other characters in the tale, generate broad sections of tension and release; all of which were carefully managed by Noseda and his orchestra with skill and wry humour. The Goblin’s awful knocking on the door of the cottage housing the mother and daughter and the subsequent furious storm were particularly astonishing, hurling a more universal concept of Fate and its attendant consequences into the mind of the listener with cruel effectiveness.

I have my reservations about the Violin Concerto, and it is not surprising that the Joseph Joachim, who was the dedicatee of the work and who insisted on numerous revisions, never performed it. So, despite a wonderful performance by James Ehnes, whose generous sonority and immaculate intonation rose organically from a finely detailed orchestral accompaniment, the piece still failed to convince.

Not the case with the great Seventh Symphony, which found orchestra and conductor firing on all cylinders. The Allegro maestoso was thoroughly convincing, with Noseda etching the opening theme into the listener’s mind, and allowing the performance to move forward through the dancing, light-filled passages and darker regions with swiftness and authority into a shattering climax. The shards of sound were quietly gathered together to make way for a whole new space in the Poco adagio with wonderful work from the horns and wind soloists that contributed to the Brahmsian hues of this movement, which also culminated in a generously realised crescendo. The scherzo was punchy without feeling rushed, the Poco meno moso trio sufficiently graceful. The final Allegro gathered together all these interpretive ideas, by turns brooding and elated, and with excellent ensemble, too, enhanced by superb string playing.

We were sent home with The Dance of the Comedians from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. It’s a pity the hall was nowhere its capacity – an orchestra and a conductor of this calibre deserve better patronage.

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