Tabita Berglund may not be a household name yet, but she is already a familiar figure on the European classical music circuit. She graduated last year from the Orchestral Conducting Master’s course at the Norwegian Academy of Music and has performed as cellist with the Oslo and Bergen Philharmonic orchestras.

Tabita Berglund conducts the RSNO © Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Tabita Berglund conducts the RSNO
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Last week, Berglund conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a streamed concert of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, with Boris Giltburg as soloist, and Sibelius' Seventh Symphony. The orchestra was socially distanced, but otherwise there were no pandemic-related features clearly visible (no masks or plastic partitions). For 2020, it looked and felt almost like a normal concert. And it sounded simply wonderful.

The Seventh, which closed the program, was Sibelius’ final completed symphony, a very satisfying and unified composition filled with the composer’s signature woodwind riffs and some brass writing worthy of Bruckner. Berglund led the four dozen or so musicians with confidence, masterful direction, and expressions of pleasure and encouragement. Conducting with a baton, she has a very vigorous style, moving her arms energetically in conspicuous arcs. This works well in electrifying the orchestra as she transforms individual passages into a cohesive musical unity. In the physically smaller orchestra, the woodwinds and brass could have easily over-shadowed the strings, but Berglund never let the balance tip too far in their favor.

Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, another young talent to watch, provided a captivating interpretation of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, filled with youthful flair. The piano was placed in the center of the stage with socially distanced musicians surrounding him. Giltburg managed to capture both the classical precision and romantic aura of this delightful work with its non-stop energy punctuated by a haunting second movement in which the orchestra, too, could rest in moments of deep reflection.

Boris Giltburg © Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Boris Giltburg
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Moreover, Giltburg has a charming on-stage persona, meeting the many technical challenges of Beethoven’s writing with enthusiasm and evident enjoyment. I thought that the camera was not always engaged at the most advantageous angle in the stream. During the first cadenza, for example, it would have been rewarding to see the pianist’s hands in motion. But even in a live performance, how often do we see every aspect of a performance to our complete satisfaction? Throughout the concerto, the orchestra and soloist blended beautifully, whether in passages of unity or in playing a game of musical tag.

With no traditional audience, the musicians applauded each other following the concerto, a cheerful touch. Giltburg performed one encore, the final movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 30 in E major, Op.109, a set of six stunning variations as only Beethoven could write them. Giltburg played these gems with sensitivity and deep understanding, honoring the individuality of each small musical universe, spinning gentle fragments of melody into increasingly complex and resonant declarations. Variation Six was simply unsurpassable.

A very agreeable concert overall!

 

This performance was reviewed from the RSNO video stream

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