The final concert in BPO’s 2021/22 season opened, appropriately enough, with a simple, short statement of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Myroslav Skoryk’s Melody, currently being played by orchestras across Europe and Scandinavia, is a lyrically pretty piece, evocative at present given its connotations and context.
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro which came next had a very well balanced sound. The last time I heard it live was at a Prom last summer in the Royal Albert Hall with the string quartet placed rather distantly on a higher tier behind the string orchestra. This time Sian Edwards and BPO made it work much more coherently by seating the four soloists at the front of their respective sections. It was an incisive and resolute account. Even the cello pizzicato, which often gets lost in the texture, sang through vibrantly.
A bit of chair shifting, arrival of wind, brass and timpanist on stage and we were then on to the colourful contrasts of Mozart’s last symphony (no 41, K551, Jupiter), its varying moods nicely pointed up. All the heavy chords and alternating busy passages in the opening Allegro, for example, were delivered with precision, panache and some very eloquent general pauses. Edwards then leaned on every elegant detail in the Andante cantabile (well done, Woodwind), gave us a warmly rich Allegretto and a Molto allegro which really danced all the way to its resolution.
The unusual lay out of this concert – symphony before the interval and concerto after – is an indication that Brahms’s first piano concerto is, like the second one written 20 years later, effectively a symphony. Joanna MacGregor, BPO’s very active, prominent and charismatic music director (she’d introduced the concert at the beginning and written some of the programme notes) is clearly very attuned to this orchestra. As we sailed into all the concerto’s glorious, angry D minor and the first mountainous movement she played the long solo opening statement, then picked up by the flute and later by horn, with such freshness that it caught and held your attention no matter how many times you’ve heard it before. MacGregor’s take on the work is measured as well as thunderously passionate as, ever businesslike she sits bespectacled with her just-in-case music resting flat on the open piano.
There was a lot of tenderess in the second movement as interwoven piano strings and wind soloists integrated with commendable control. Slow movements – and this one was played very slowly in this performance – are a minefield but Edwards held it together splendidly. Finally came the Rondo and resounding conclusion which included some arresting work on keyboard, particularly in the fervent mini cadenza.
All in all this was a delightful concert characterised by grace and passion. There was even a moment of comedy when Edwards and MacGreggor arrived on stage for the concerto to find no score on the podium so Edwards had to scuttle off and hunt for it – and in a lifetime of concert going that was a first for me.
First published by Lark Reviews