Prom 18 – Pastoral (From Afar)

Ligeti
Lontano
Mozart
Violin Concerto in A, K219 (Turkish)
Beethoven
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)

Antje Weithaas (violin)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Christian Gansch


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 31 July, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Applause between movements? Yep. The organ-surround daubed with colour? Yep. Three crap selections tonight – Sickly Green, Blue/Mauve Potage and Putrid Orange. Dulux rejects! The BBC producer responsible might mutter something about ’enhancement’. The (ignored) customer would cite ’intrusion’. Less is more.

Some of the audience almost sank Lontano under ringing mobile phones, coughs and fidgeting. It survived for two reasons: an excellent performance and it being an intriguing piece for the open-minded and sound-conscious listener. Dating from 1967, one can find an extra-terrestrial link in György Ligeti’s soundworld (if you must), or focus on the variegation of timbre and decoration. Christian Gansch invested intensity to sustain its 10 minutes and made plain Ligeti’s expressiveness, drama and individuality.

In many ways the vastness of the Albert Hall ensures that most of the repertoire played there is experienced ’lontano’ (from a distance) – unless you’re at the front of the Arena, on either side of the platform, or conducting. The Mozart was rendered almost too intimately. Which is not to deny the sparkle and buoyancy of the performance, Antje Weithaas’s nimble playing, which lurched a tad both tonally and dynamically and Gansch’s lithe accompaniment. Their give and take blossomed in the slow movement. The rondo finale outstayed its welcome, more than enough cadences and episodes! The ’Turkish’ interlude seemed a little tame, contained – but it was ’from afar’

After a slightly too headlong first movement, more exuberant than joyous, but not pressured, Gansch and the orchestra settled to give one of the loveliest performances of the Pastoral I’ve heard in years. The Scene by the Brook was wonderfully done, just the right amount of current and a rhythmic profile and timbral blend that made this movement something beyond its title. Indeed, Gansch paraded Beethoven’s humanity; this wasn’t just a day in the country. Lyrical music sung, rhythms danced, BBCNOW articulated with devotion, its woodwind are a characterful bunch, the timpanist was superb in the Storm, and the final benediction had a repose that comes from heartfelt imagination rather than editorial response. Gansch used Bärenreiter but, unlike some colleagues, he wasn’t rooted to the spot with his reading of it or overly concerned with 1808.

Christian Gansch has impressed in his Radio 3 studio-work and seems to be building a strong relationship with BBCNOW. His relaxed yet commanding conducting style encompasses direct communication and music’s inner workings. He is ’one to follow’ – no doubts about that.

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Monday 4 August at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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