Ryan Bancroft conducts Stenhammar’s Excelsior!, Hannah Kendall’s The Spark Catchers, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol | Sol Gabetta plays Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Stockholms konserthus, Hötorget 8, 103 87 Stockholm, Sweden
Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga
December in Stockholm is Nobel Prize time, ushered in customarily by a concert from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in the presence of Carl XVI Gustaf. This year’s running marked Ryan Bancroft’s first appearance as chief conductor designate, an appointment he takes up in the 2023/24 season, succeeding Sakari Oramo. Winner of the 2018 Nikolai Malko Competition, recipient more recently of a 2021 Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Bancroft, a personable thirty-two-year old West Coast American, is Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Artist-in-Association with the Tapiola Sinfonietta. With experience and energy under his belt, he bounded onto the stage to a fanfare of adulation and hyperbole worthy of a pugilist ring. The Stockholmers clearly feel fortunate to have signed him to their ranks. Dispensing with a baton, not given to theatrics, he uses his hands expressively, a tensioned flick of the wrist to emphasise the beat, eyes watchful. Adoring his every move, the orchestra gave him a high voltage return, the audience cheering to the rafters, hoping no doubt for an encore he entertainingly sidestepped.
Looking especially radiant, Sol Gabetta delivered a strong Saint-Saëns Concerto, clear in tone, her bowing and fingering for all on the web to see in the up-front camera work. Receptive to Bancroft but also turning every now and again to the concertmaster, Joakim Svenheden (a charismatic personality, formerly with the LPO), she seemed to enjoy herself whatever the terraces of tempo or tenderness. Occasionally (middle movement excepted) I sensed Bancroft wanting to hurry – 18:20 compared with Gabetta’s 20:05 RCA recording – but she warmed to the Beethovenian/Schumannesque/Lisztian physicality of his approach, wreathed in smiles by the joie de vivre of it all. Lensky’s Aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin made for a reflective encore. “Where, where have you gone, golden days of my spring?”
Near contemporary in composition, the opening and closing numbers of the programme – Stenhammar’s Excelsior! concert overture (1896), Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol (1887) – displayed grandeur, elan and occasion, the music moving on, form before indulgence. Whatever rush I might have felt in Saint-Saëns was firmly set aside in the Capriccio, Bancroft (rather like Alan Gilbert in Hamburg in June) favouring an appealingly deliberated pulse for the Alborada sections, downbeats accented – a concept somewhat in the Svetlanov/Simonov/Gergiev manner, contrasting the likes of Mehta or the bacchanalia of Kristjan Järvi. Following the interval, Hannah Kendall’s The Spark Catchers (2017 Prom commission) exposed orchestra and public to the “wonderful dynamism, vibrancy, and drive”, the sparkle and kinetic energy, of the Lemn Sissay poem which inspired her. A communicative essay settling well in a big space, Bancroft zoning in comfortably.