Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset

No sooner does Mark Wigglesworth become the BSO’s principal guest conductor,, than he steps onto the Lighthouse’s podium.

Nicht zu schnell is the tempo-marking of the only movement left to us of Mahler’s teenage Piano Quartet (1876) and is now the title of David Matthews’s 2009 orchestration written for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestration. If the music doesn’t readily suggest Mahler as we know him, no more than Matthews’s full and expert scoring does – at times, Schumann, early Webern and Zemlinsky come to mind – it is a suggestive and dramatic ten-minute piece that conjures forests and tales within, Wigglesworth open to volatile possibilities, the BSO very responsive.

As it was, following the interval, in Sibelius’s First Symphony. An introspective clarinet solo and a quietly ominous timpani roll promised much – not always delivered in a reading strong on detail if somewhat short on passion and (first movement) cohesion. Brass could be coarse in fortissimos, and the slow movement flowed a little too easily for all the painterly imagery. The Scherzo though, at a fleet speed, was mercurial and nimbly played, the Trio mellifluous. The stakes now raised, the Finale took off, plenty of fantasy, tempest and broadness of utterance (although the strings lacked that last degree of depth of tone), if with the enduring suspicion that this was not always the full Nordic story.

As centrepiece, Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (composed for his son Maxim), a light-hearted and romantic piece. The perky if quizzical first movement found Steven Osborne bounding along, fingers crisp, the BSO happily acerbic, with the Finale, a rapid-fire roulade of notes for the soloist, more than ably dispatched by Osborne, musically and dynamically, the BSO, with plenty to do, always in the aural picture. In the middle the (to my mind) Chopinesque slow movement was tenderly addressed at a spacious but not cloying tempo. As an encore, an improvisation on a Keith Jarrett number, quite lovely in its meditation, as if Osborne were at home on a peaceful Sunday morning, church bells sounding in the distance.