Thursday, May 26, 2022

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Some concerts you don’t review. You’re just glad you were there, to share and remember, to have breathed the occasion. Herbert Blomstedt, ninety-five in July, directed a performance of Bruckner Seven as towering, glowing and resonant as the cathedrals that were the composer’s environment and inspiration. The great E-major cupolas crowning the flanking movements defined majesty and magnificence – strings soaring beyond the clouds, the trumpet-edged brass columns organ-like in their registration, the kettle-drum E-pedals glorying in crescendo. The massive Leviathan climax of the Adagio – in a reading following Nowak but otherwise acknowledging the wartime Haas edition in omitting cymbals and triangle (though not timpani) – thundered deep more than triumphed bright, the semitone-dropping bass-line (G-sharp/A-flat to G) swinging the whole torso from C-sharp minor to C-major in one epic spine-tingling cosmos of sound and tension, the gates of Heaven before us. The Wagner tubas of the coda – the contrabass tuba of the heavy brass (two-o’clock position) having moved over to join them, left-back of stage – intoned their lament with a solemnity and perfection of tuning (major third in particular) rarely so tearfully sublime, the pizzicatos at the close bidding the softest of farewells to mortal life. Corporately and soloistically, the Philharmonia – antiphonal violins, cellos and basses to the left – was supremely responsive, loving and in love with the tall, stooping old master guiding their journey, un-opened blue study-score before him, hands ever expressive and releasing, giving every player their moment, every now and again rising to full height in the oceanic vastness of Bruckner’s vision. Seventy minutes spent, emotionally and physically drained, the packed house rose to a man, no ovation enough to do justice to the revelation witnessed.

Opening the programme, the debate, aria (Andrew Mellor’s “black pearl” F-sharp minor), and singspiel frolics of Mozart’s ‘big’ A-major Piano Concerto K488. Rarely rising about mezzoforte, the pages free of adornment, Maria João Pires’s characteristically crystalline articulation (plus flutter pedalling) ensured no note or turn was lost. The formal structure was unlaboured, her dovetailing with the woodwinds in the second and final movements a classic study in reticence yet commitment, the dialogue beautifully integrated. With Blomstedt handling his reduced forces like the classiest of chamber ensembles, everyone intent on listening and matched phrasing, this was intimate, elegantly projected music-making. The world of Vienna a century before Bruckner.