John StorgÂrds takes the BBC Philharmonic on a musical journey at the BBC Proms

Just as there was a variety of composers, there was a variety of
performance standards; to the extent that it did not take too much to guess
where the rehearsal time had been spent. The Wagner Meistersinger
Overture was a casualty in this regard, the legato articulation of
the opening and the very soft-sticked timpani basically offering Wagnerian
sludge. On the plus side, the BBC Philharmonic’s sound is deeper, more
burnished in the lower registers these days, the eight double-basses a real
presence, and there were plenty of excellent individual contributions, most
notably the tuba (Christopher Evans) and, in fact, the brass section in
general, but there was a somnambulistic aspect to the performance that
seemed markedly against the spirit of the music.

The excellent soprano Elizabeth Watts proved something of a turning-point
in the concert’s trajectory, bringing superb shaping to each of the four
Schubert/Liszt songs. The meeting of Schubert with Liszt’s unmistakable
voice in the orchestrations is fascinating, and the performances were
vibrant. Capturing the dark, stormy energy of Die junge Nonne,
D828, to perfection, the BBC Philharmonic provided the perfect backdrop to
Watts’ rich, resonant voice. Watts’ diction here, and throughout, was
exemplary, not a syllable getting eaten up by the vastness of the Albert
Hall. Her voice is free, allowing her to convey peace as well as anger inNonne; and how strong, too, is her lower register. The famous Gretschen am Spinnrade (D118) opened with a tapestry of strings
over which Watts spun the drama of the young girl’s infatuation. Schubert’s
great gift for simplicity came to the fore in Lied der Mignon,
D877/3 (which included a lovely solo cello contribution from Peter Dixon);
Watt’s superbly free voice once more soared. One of the most famous of
Schubert songs, Erlkˆnig, found Watts acting the various parts of
father, son and Erlking physically as well as vocally, thinning her voice
for the son; filling it for the Erlking (and how delightful are Liszt’s
woodwind additions to “Du liebes Kind”).

The idea of contrast and variety in this concert was massively confirmed by
including Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Symphony in One Movement of
1947-51, heard in its 1953 revision (in which Zimmermann cuts the organ
part of the original). The piece began with an existential cry; forthcoming
textures were vibrant with dark energy. The sureness of the performance
indicated careful rehearsal, the angst-ridden march rhythms, laden, heavy,
contrasted strongly with woodwind passages of Zimmermann meeting
Mendelssohn in terms of lightness. Block chords were superbly balanced by
the conductor. No easy piece to listen to (or play), this performance
seemed to sum up what the Proms is all about, introducing music of huge
value to large audiences.

The second half held two contrasting pieces. Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy
arranged for piano and orchestra by Liszt rubbing shoulders with Sibelius’
miraculous, seeming stream-of-consciousness yet in fact exquisitely
structured, Seventh Symphony. Louis Lortie was the fine soloist (playing a
beautifully toned and prepared Bˆsendorfer) in a performance of the
Schubert “Wanderer’ Fantasy of terrific verve. The violin semiquavers at he
opening in the violins were supremely together, setting the tone for the
orchestral discipline on evidence throughout the performance. Lortie was
technically commanding throughout, but he also found just the right depth
for the prayer-like opening to the slow movement. L‰ndler rhythms
lilted beautifully from all. This was a wonderful performance of this
rarely-heard arrangement (the last time it was heard at the Proms, for
example, was 1986, with the great Jorge Bolet as soloist).

Finally, Sibelius’ fabulous one-movement Seventh Symphony of 1924. The BBC
Philharmonic trombones were tasked with Sibelius’ potent, noble theme that
recurs at salient points, and delivered with beautifully creamy tone and a
well considered sense of balance. Consonances or near-consonances glowed
from within, and StorgÂrds ensured a real sense of organic unfolding; more,
even. The BBC Philharmonic perfectly captures Sibelius’ stark, sometimes
forbidding, landscape. Monumental brass, light wind in the scherzo-like Vivacissimo and superbly together strings all contributed to this
stunning performance, the crowning brass (the Elgarian term ‘nobilmente’
sprung to mind) glowing.

Quite a musical journey over the course of the evening, then; and quite
right that the Sibelius should be its crowning glory.

Colin Clarke

PROM 14: Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Louis Lortie (piano), BBC
Philharmonic/John StorgÂrds

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von N¸rnberg – Overture; Schubert/Liszt:
‘Die junge Nonne’, ‘Gretschen am Spinnrade’, ‘Lied der Mignon’, ‘Erlkˆnig’;
Zimmermann – Symphony in One Movement; Schubert/Liszt – Fantasy in C,
‘Wanderer’, D760; Sibelius – Symphony No.7

Royal Albert Hall, London; 24th July 2018.

image_description=PROM 14: BBC Philharmonic/John StorgÂrds (conductor), Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Louis Lortie (piano)
product_title=PROM 14: BBC Philharmonic/John StorgÂrds (conductor), Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Louis Lortie (piano)
product_by=A review by Colin Clarke
product_id= Above: Elizabeth Watts

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve