Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in London

Peer Gynt – Suite No.1
Il re pastore, K208 – L’ameró, Saro Costante Barbaro!; Oh Dio mi vedi divisa dal mio ben
Symphony No.4

Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano)

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 25 March, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Andrew Litton. Photograph: Danny TurnerThis concert demonstrated what a high standard the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – founded in 1765 – is currently attaining since Andrew Litton took over as music director in 2003.

The concert began with a selection of music written for Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” by Grieg. Edvard Grieg was the orchestra’s artistic director from 1880 to 1882. In the opening number, ‘Dawn’, one was immediately struck by the richness of the strings and the characterful playing of the horns and winds. In ‘Aase’s Death’, Litton again drew expressive playing from the strings. ‘Anitra’s Dance’ was spirited as well as sensual, while tension was masterfully built up in a menacing reading of ‘The Hall of the Mountain King’, where the bassoons made a vivid contribution to the grotesque scenario.

There followed a pair of arias from “Il re pastore”, the opera that Mozart wrote in 1775 to a commission from Salzburg’s ruler, Archbishop Hieronymous von Colloredo. Heidi Grant Murphy sang the serene but challenging Act Two aria ‘L’ameró, saro costante’ with considerable control and a real legato, communicating Aminta’s amorous feelings in a truly affecting manner. The orchestra’s leader, Melina Mandozzi, played the violin obbligato beautifully, and the interplay between her and the soprano towards the end of the aria was charming. Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic also offered sensitive support in ‘Barbaro! Oh Dio mi vedi divisa dal mio ben’. The demands of this piece are more virtuosic, and the singer ably rose to them, whether pleading with her antagonist or expressing outrage towards him. This was ardent and highly accomplished singing.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony completed the concert, a performance graced by some fine playing. The sleigh-bell opening of the first movement, bright and not in the least pulled about, conveyed a palpable sense of bucolic charm. But soon a shadowy undertow was revealed. Litton adroitly negotiated Mahler’s frequently abrupt and unsettling changes of mood, and his musicians constantly illuminated the landscape with vivid tints. In the second movement, the tone of Mandozzi’s tuned-up violin was appropriately rustic, but in her vibrant playing there was also palpable irony, which found an echo in the eerie interplay between the brass and winds. The ländler-like trio sections, stylishly played, offered only temporary relief.

Whilst the extended slow movement was profoundly elegiac and brought much-needed balm, a sense of sadness was also present. Following the thrilling climax, the postlude was very tenderly done and prepared for the soprano’s entry in the finale. Some may initially have been taken aback by Grant Murphy’s ‘little-girl’ delivery, but her striking approach managed to communicate the child’s vision of heaven very touchingly to complete a most enjoyable concert.

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