Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor
Boris Berezovsky (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 16 August, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The Prom had started with Grieg’s musical tribute to his friend and fellow-composer Rikard Nordraak who died when in his early twenties. Grieg’s Funeral March is, as music, rather undistinguished, although its glower and depth of feeling is impressive. Originally composed for piano duet, then arranged by Grieg for military band and then for brass and percussion, the orchestral version by Johan Halvorsen (a later contemporary of Grieg’s) – who presumably took his cue from Grieg’s own instrumentation – seems rather bombastic (the scoring includes gong and two military drums) and unduly noisy; here, the violent strokes on the bass drum seemed merely gratuitous.
This entrée introduced the strengths and weaknesses of the Bergen Philharmonic; amongst the former are superb woodwind soloists and eloquent cellos; amongst the latter are edgy too loud trumpets and violins (even when massed together) that fall a little short in terms of optimum refulgence. But full marks for bringing Walton’s great First Symphony, which was played with confidence and commitment under a very sympathetic and experienced Walton-conductor (if you see his Decca/Bournemouth Symphony recording of Façade, Viola Concerto and Hindemith Variations, snap it up!). The first movement took a while to settle, but then so did the audience and that damn fountain in the Arena! Fiery and rhythmically chiselled, Litton and the orchestra maintained an emotional momentum throughout the first movement, even in the more reflective passages, which were here intertwined with just balance, but an increase of tempo in the coda rather undid the whole … and the ‘with malice’ scherzo lacked knife-edge incision. The shadows of the slow movement were well caught – more fine flute-playing – so too the Andante pulse and was meticulously detailed without being overly beguiling. The finale had a vigour, consideration and blaze that caught the music’s mood, yet, for all that this was a valiant, hard-working and well-prepared performance, a relative plainness across the whole symphony didn’t always lift the music off the page with enough variegation.
Litton made a witty speech that alluded to time being of the essence – a late-night Prom was imminent – and that BBC stopwatches were on the prowl. He could only conduct one encore, which was an affecting version of Grieg’s ‘The Last Spring’ (from Two Elegiac Melodies), and was as good as his word when he cued ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ (“Peer Gynt”) and left the platform, the Bergen Philharmonic carrying on regardless.