Photo, Sisi Burn

Monday, August 14, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Following a previous London performance,, and then a recording,, Sakari Oramo continues to champion the only Symphony (1916-17, premiered 1920 in Dresden) by Dora Pejačević (1885-1923), and he conducts it next season in Helsinki, possibly elsewhere. It’s a fascinating score, perhaps difficult to get to know once past its arresting opening that maybe reflects wartime conflict, yet the first movement might be heard as also pastoral and nostalgic, and certainly harmonically elusive, although there seems to be a plan, which is for us to discover, and, along the way, there may be heard correspondences with Reger and Zemlinsky, as well as, whether she knew it or not, Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande. The slow second movement suggests open country tinged by melancholy (mood-changes during the first two movements are numerous yet seamless), some cheer then offered in the perky Scherzo, colourful percussion (not overdone) adding a smile, and the Finale strides with assurance to an optimistic conclusion, shining in this dedicated performance.

Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto occupied the first half, introduced by a flavoursome horn solo from Martin Owen, Martin Helmchen confidently dispatching his opening measures to launch an heroic first movement during which the most-challenging writing was technically magisterial and musically profoundly addressed, as well as flexible, delicate and dynamic, with Oramo and the BBCSO astute and complementary partners, so too in a fiery second movement, passions contrasted with sweet reflection, the latter quality freely revealed in the Andante through exquisite cello solos from Jonathan Aasgaard. If only Helmchen had gone straight into the Finale we would have been spared at least one burst of irritating clapping (a bugbear all evening) but his debonair and playful approach was stylish and, across the demanding whole, he was well-nigh invincible. Brahms’s wonderful A-major Intermezzo Opus 118/2 was Helmchen’s encore. Sublime.