Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

John Storgårds is currently doing well with First Symphonies; last week it was Sibelius’s,, and, now, Rachmaninov’s (1897/1945), its history regarding a poor premiere – conductor Glazunov drunk or not – a critical mauling, and a despondent composer seems more about A telling B, B telling C, and so on, with myths created and passed on. ttps://

Storgårds believes in the piece, the BBC Philharmonic in top form, to reveal the Symphony’s power, passion, sepulchral romance, wistful half-lights and festive fire – it might end loudly but is not triumphant, more about descending to an inhospitable place, from where no escape, and he was especially successful in bringing out the music’s volatility, and throughout without the touchings-up as favoured by, say, Rozhdestvensky or Jurowski, every bit as compelling during ‘Rachmaninov 150’ as David Robertson conducting the Symphony in Helsinki, as below, and Leonard Slatkin’s permanence in Detroit,

The concert opened with the Overture to Oberon, written for London by Weber and which proved to be his final manuscript, the already ill composer finally losing out to the labour of composing it and then conducting performances of the opera. Storgårds led a lived-in, exhilarating and flexible account of magical music that is always engaging and timeless.

Then Sarah Connolly brought her bespoke artistry to settings by Alma Mahler (née Schindler, who followed marriage to Mahler with nuptials to Walter Gropius then Franz Werfel) and Dora Pejačević, the latter a Countess among composers. Dora was on first, four short songs, rather lovely, picturesque and expressive, whether flittering butterflies, something darker, or about love, each attractively and revealingly scored by her. The three settings by Alma (with piano) were orchestrated by Colin & David Matthews with much skill and sympathy, the music perhaps less penetrable if rewarding, maybe suggestive of Richard Strauss in stage-work mode. All seven numbers were persuasively performed, words and music as-one, pictures painted, characters created.

There was no interval, the Rachmaninov followed…

Pejačević: Zwei Schmetterlingslieder Op.52, Verwandlung Op.37, Liebeslied Op.39
Alma Mahler-Werfel (orch C and D Matthews) Die stille Stadt, Licht in der Nacht, Bei dir ist es traut