Thursday, June 20, 2024

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk

Unsuk Chin’s half-hour Cello Concerto (2008), premiered at the Proms the following year, was composed for Alban Gerhardt, now a veteran of the piece, which was revised in 2013. For all Gerhardt’s mastery and commitment, and the excellence of the BBC Scottish and a sympathetic conductor, the work is perhaps too reliant on colour and effects, although there’s no doubting the continuous intensity or indeed a compelling passage of strange atmosphere, a dark place indeed. There was a dramatic interruption, during an equally dramatic page, when the soloist’s instrument suffered a broken string, Gerhardt borrowing a replacement from an orchestra member, the performance continuing from slightly before where the incident occurred, eventually wafting into the ether. Chin’s Cello Concerto is said to be the equal of LutosÅ‚awski’s. Not quite.

For an encore, as it were, Gerhardt played in Bruckner Seven, sitting at the back of the SSO cellists, his own instrument now repaired. Ryan Wigglesworth led a spacious, glowing and flexible account, delicately quiet at time, over-brassy at others, lucidly detailed, and with a sense of theatre, such as making much of the timpani’s first entry (about fifteen minutes in), here a steep crescendo reaching a thunderous fff, and again in the coda. The Adagio, during its composition Bruckner learnt of Wagner’s death, found Wigglesworth digging deep into the music’s heartfelt eloquence, charting indivisibly to – wait for it – a climax without the questionable cymbal clash (presumably Wigglesworth was using Haas’s edition – no-one said). With a trenchant, rhythmically buoyant Scherzo, offset by a languorous but not static Trio, and a Finale of lightness, sacred tread and proud ceremony, a relatively brief envoi but a satisfying one, rounded off a commanding performance that got to the Symphony’s heart and vision. The few seconds of silence before applause told its own story of appreciation.