Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Monday, July 17, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade in A-minor was written 1898 for the Three Choirs Festival at Elgar’s suggestion. It’s an uneven work. Some ideas engage and indeed remind of Elgar, and Tchaikovsky, while others do not develop their potential although they are weaker anyway; that said, German Anja Bihlmaier (conductor of Het Residentie Orkest in The Hague) led a persuasive performance. I probably don’t need to say that the Bruch was the First of his three Violin Concertos. It was rather indulged by South Korean Bomsori who we were told by the Radio 3 presenter was going to be “spectacular” – she wasn’t, but why give the game away before the performance, or after it for that matter? She can throb her violin’s strings, she can attack them, and she took her time with the slow movement, quite effective if a little clotted. The Finale was a romp. Yet, although her technique is pristine, there was little here that suggested Bomsori was inside the music enough, more that she has a general view of it, and she was fortunate to have an accompaniment as detailed and as characterful as the BBC Philharmonic’s. Nevertheless, for an encore Bomsori played a Polish Caprice by Grażyna Bacewicz for which her tone deepened and her emotional address was more identified with the music than was ever suggested in the Bruch.

Opening the second half, the three Hungarian Dances (Nos. 1, 3 & 10) that Brahms orchestrated from his twenty-one for piano/four hands. Bihlmaier led them with the right degree of spirit and sentiment, avoiding exaggeration (there’s been some shockers over the years), with convincing dynamics and tempos, the BBC Phil suave and fiery. Bihlmaier continued to impress with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (1943) for the Boston Symphony and Koussevitzky, a reading that illuminated the score gratifyingly, true to the work, such as the witty chatter of ‘Game of the Couples’ or the dark despair of ‘Elegia’. But the whole – made even more whole by attaccas between movements – was fresh and revealing, played in a manner that suggested the Phil players have really taken to Bihlmaier (I have), a conductor with an impeccable technique and an imagination that lifts music off the page while retaining integrity, a difficult interpretative balancing act that Bihlmaier seems to have in spades.