Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Monday, July 18, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

With principal conductor Omer Meir Wellber withdrawing, the BBC Philharmonic turned to his predecessor, Juanjo Mena, the Bach and Bruckner surviving the change.

Ten years ago Mena recorded Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with this orchestra, although Chandos delayed release until fairly recently,, a marvellous, time-taken account. A decade on, Mena remains majestic if slightly less so, if still a master of the first movement’s tempo relationships, transitions and dynamics, especially those down the quieter end of the scale; and what excellent timpani contributions. The Adagio, as before a Celibidachian conception, was sublime, with eloquent oboe solos and lustrous strings, Mena tuned-in to the music’s sacred searching – Holy Grail in view – and if this was about prayer and seclusion, then the Scherzo was a rumbustious game in the Great Outdoors, the forestry of the Trio not indulged even with a legend possibly enshrined within, and the Finale went with a swing, a momentum that satisfied dance, reminiscence, and a glorious arrival, brass blazing. I assume Mena stuck with Nowak’s edition (no mention by the Radio 3 announcer more concerned with other matters) for there is recent publication by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs.

As advertised, Lawrence Power appeared, if not with the premiere of Cassandra Miller’s Viola Concerto. (The rumour-mill had speculated that Wellber was not on board before it became official. Presuming that Power was already ploughing through the new piece, one wonders whether Mena didn’t have time to study it or found it not to his fancy.) Whatever, James MacMillan’s Viola Concerto was revised – familiar from an LPO broadcast concert and, more pertinently, Hyperion’s recording, To be honest, on this Proms occasion, I was less than enthralled, despite an excellent performance, for it came across as whimsical, bitty, and too evident of Bartók and Shostakovich; Highland Flings and a Japanese flute imitation added to the diversity. (Power played an encore, composer and title eluding me, save for the word “bells”.) No whimsy from Webern in his scoring of the ‘Ricercar a 6’ from J. S. Bach’s Musical Offering, the music channelled through various instruments, certainly played with character by members of the BBC Phil, if a sober start to the evening.