BBC Philharmonic

The Water Goblin, Op.107
Rusalka – Song to the Moon
La bohème – Musetta’s Waltz Song
Manon Lescaut – Intermezzo
I puritani – Mad Scene
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47

Anna Netrebko (soprano)

BBC Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 September, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The most consistently satisfying performance came at the beginning of the concert. Dvořák’s musical depiction of an Erben ballad brought to vivid life by Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic in a rendition delightful in its buoyancy, touching in its melody and beguiling in its detailing. Noseda shaped, stretched and characterised Dvořák’s material just enough to create a real sense of narrative but avoid melodrama. Excellent playing, committed and focussed, as throughout the evening.

The applause for Dvořák’s was lukewarm, undeserved, while the reception for Anna Netrebko was out of proportion. The Bellini aria was cut – on the spurious grounds that the concert was rather long (albeit no longer than any other ‘long’ Prom) – and which lacked incident, deranged or otherwise, and culminated in a dodgy-sounding high note. Netrebko certainly has a ‘beautiful voice’ and this aspect of the Bellini was satisfied, although her tone is squally above the stave. Her Slavic timbre was most disposed to the Dvořák, voluptuous, the highlight, although she and Noseda didn’t always agree over rubato, and not all her notes were true, and her Puccini, flirtatious in person, lacked musical poise, though there’s no doubting her stage presence, confidence and outreaching singing. Puccini’s orchestral Intermezzo, with fine solo string playing at the beginning, rose passionately.

Applause after the first two movements of the Shostakovich was ruinous (Noseda conjured silence before launching the finale), “bastard audience” was muttered by someone a few seats away – a useful description. Shostakovich was played to an orange-coloured organ console. (Actually the grey tinge used for part of part one was quite attractive. Could that be the standard next year? And surely one colour per concert is enough?) Noseda’s view of this popular (great?) symphony proved very interesting, especially in the first and third movements. The former, unusually long-drawn, was convincing in its control and sustained intensity; the slow movement, a little too throbbing initially, settled into an engrossing interior world with remarkably quite pianissimos, on the threshold of inaudibility, that built to a searing climax notable for Noseda highlighting some clarinet prodding that is usually swamped by the strings.

The scherzo had been a little too manipulated, and the problematical finale, specifically the coda – do you sincerely tow the party line and accept “just criticism” or offer false, robotic rejoicing – found Noseda just too triumphal, too animated, too fast. Mravinsky knew the code here; his disengagement makes the point all too clearly about Shostakovich’s manufacture. Noseda’s ease suggested that the composer had totally capitulated.

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