Prom 42: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – Thomas Dausgaard conducts Sibelius and Nielsen – Jan Lisiecki Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4

Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable)

Jan Lisiecki (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 18 August, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This Prom came at the end of Thomas Dausgaard’s six years as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with Symphonies by fellow Nordics Sibelius and Nielsen giving a clue to his favoured repertoire. In Sibelius’s Symphony No.7, that magically anticipated and withheld cadence to C-major, the SSO players showed again how thoroughly they have absorbed Dausgaard’s way into Sibelius with a sound as singular in its way as Colin Davis’s with the LSO and the same composer – an enigmatic sheen for the strings that can blow both warm and cold, beautifully recessed woodwind, and a subliminal power from the brass, all combining to evoke Sibelius’s long perspectives. Dausgaard knows how this music never needs to strain for its sense of inevitability and he resists the music’s cinematic allure, preferring a pliant dialogue and an effortlessly supple ensemble to show-off Sibelius’s transparent scoring. This suited the Seventh’s abstract appraisal of elemental remoteness and grandeur, played with an epic assurance that made its short duration seem timeless.

Jan Lisiecki replaced Francesco Piemontesi at dramatically short notice in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4, a work that in recent performances has been mined for its inward philosophical potential. Lisiecki was more extrovert, and the result was fresh and very satisfying, especially in the Furies-taming Andante when Lisiecki’s direct, uncomplicated poetic sense enhanced the music’s moments of drama and tragedy very effectively. His barely audible opening chord generated a graceful, quasi-period orchestral introduction, blown away by his upbeat bravura in his main entry. And Lisiecki had form when it came to luminous passage work, intoxicating phrasing and articulation, and an innate empathy for the music’s still moments. Dausgaard eloquently steered both orchestra and soloist through some hair-raising ensemble, particularly in those moments at the end of Lisiecki’s agreeably romantic cadenzas when he hands the reins back to the orchestra. Without being remotely flashy or impetuous, this was a bracing, deeply affectionate performance. Lisiecki’s limpid encore, Chopin’s Nocturne in C-minor, Op. posth., tactfully suggested where Beethoven was going rather than where he was coming from.

Nielsen is home territory for Dausgaard and for this orchestra. The ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony No. 4 promises a titanic surge of striving, which here didn’t quite happen. This, for me, is down to the music, which for all its eruptive energy is let down by its optimism – and this was Nielsen’s response to the First World War. The playing was masterly, the woodwind (impeccable in the Intermezzo) and brass in particular, but for all Dausgaard’s super-animated guidance, Nielsen’s advances to and retreats from climaxes didn’t always register, while the famous closing conflict between two sets of timpani fell flat. And the gimmick of having one of the timpani men, Alasdair Kelly casually dressed, making his way through the prommers to his set placed at the front-right of the Arena, just didn’t set off the indestructible – or so you would have thought – moment of high drama.

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