Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

With this concert Thomas Dausgaard bid farewell to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as Chief Conductor. He chose a programme of masterworks with which to do it. I’m told Sibelius Seven was broadcast on Radio 3 only the day before – an odd clash given its imminent Prom appearance, and I’m pleased to have missed it for fear of over-exposure, and anyway the station’s relentless Proms trailers and hype-ridden reminders demand that the broadcaster be silent for the greater part of any day at present, at least for me.

The Sibelius as conducted by Dausgaard contained many wonderful aspects, not least a spacious and powerful unfolding of this remarkable concentration of symphonic form, much attention given to filigree detail if not, always, the most organic wholeness, yet the performance glowed with gravitas (warm strings and noble trombone solos, too), dynamics were considered, and climaxes terraced one to the next – so that the C-major resolution, coming out of upheaval and resigned sadness, was made inevitable and unfollowable.

Jan Lisiecki replaced Francesco Piemontesi at twenty-four hours’ notice (on what was a day off between Germany and Poland recitals) for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. He was bright and breezy, even blunt, in the first movement – less than poetic, less than inward – quite flamboyant if countered by delicacy, and with an uninhibited cadenza (the regular of Beethoven’s two). For the beast-taming second movement the strings were curt, the pianist’s response not quite consoling enough, but the conclusion sank below the radar in the most magical way, and if the Finale was steely rather than sparkling, we did at least get the advertised Concerto, and played in the same manner as if the soloist had been booked months ago. The SSO’s alert accompaniment – tangy strings, gruff accents, period-edgy horns – made for diverting yet complementary listening as part of this lively and likeable account. Lisiecki left us with C-minor Chopin, the Nocturne that is Op. posth., rather lovely, dreaming.

Carl Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’ Fourth Symphony (1916) was launched into welcoming applause and the announcer’s signing-in (if only he could have stopped a few seconds sooner), a lava-flow of energy, but really it was unsettling in the wrong way. I wanted the Symphony to start again, to get its full measure. Anyway, it was a seasoned reading, played to the hilt, volatile, troubled, yet some of this sound and fury signified not very much, although the second movement was delightfully pointed and pastoral, excellent woodwinds – a shame about the coughing and other noises-off – and the third reinstated heavy-of-heart intensity and deep expressivity, on the verge of heroism, leading up to the pulsating Finale with two sets of timpani, here, it seems, with one behind the orchestra, the other positioned into the Arena (I thought, maybe incorrectly, that Nielsen wanted them towards the front of the orchestra either side). Dausgaard drove the music but let it subside too much and those timpani battles were a little tame, although an indomitable spirit was found at the end. “Music is life”, said Nielsen.

Post #2,000: Thomas Dausgaard & BBCSSO record Bartók for Onyx, Volume 2 – The Miraculous Mandarin.