Three composers featured on this BBC Philharmonic programme at the Bridgewater Hall, each with their own take on ‘classicism’ and each with a twist. Symphonies with three and five movements from Stravinsky and Beethoven respectively, and a concerto from Brahms with two soloists, each composer employing their own slant on those ‘Classical’ forms. 

Elena Schwarz conducts the BBC Philharmonic
© BBC Philharmonic

The programme was in reverse chronological order, with Stravinsky’s 1946 Symphony In Three Movements beginning the evening’s music-making. This was without doubt a formidable performance and set the bar very high. The confidence in the playing from the BBC Philharmonic players was exceptional. They had recorded the work earlier this year (with a different conductor and pianist), however, the agility and skill to bring this to life was still in their fingers. The conducting of Elena Schwarz was clear and precise as she guided the musicians through this complex score. 

The first movement, paced with conviction, was rhythmically strong and balanced with insight. The antiphony between the horns and trumpets with contrasting phrasing made an intriguing listen, pianist Paul Jones bringing a range of timbres which was completely intrinsic to the music. The cooler palette of the opening movement gave way to warmer colours in the Andante, thinner textures allowing harpist Clifford Lantaff to shine, without compromise in projection or sound in the hall. The con moto finale brimmed with vivacious energy, capturing a feeling of dance and movement throughout. Schwarz brought commendable contrasting coloration to each episode here, making a very satisfying performance. 

Brahms’ 1887 classically cast Double Concerto in A minor was given a rare airing by violinist Daniel Pioro and cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière. What was immediately apparent was how equally matched, technically and musically, these two were in what is not Brahms’ finest concerto. After the opening flourishes of the Allegro, the chemistry was strong as Pioro and Julien-Laferrière springboarded ideas between them; phrasing was imitative, both finding something individual to say; their cantabile tones were undoubtedly rich, lyrical and beautiful. Both soloists and conductor found a lightness, despite the minor tonality throughout the Allegro, blooming into warmer and richer hues in the central Andante. As with the preceding Stravinsky, there was an increased vivacity in the Vivace non troppo finale; the gentle and sympathetic execution of rubato at certain moments was fitting, bringing contrast to what can be an enduring listen. 

Daniel Pioro and Victor Julien-Laferrière
© BBC Philharmonic

Stopping the time machine back in 1808 Vienna, Beethoven’s programmatic Sixth Symphony was the final work of the evening. This Pastoral was a vivacious caper through the Austrian countryside with Schwarz in the driving seat. Each of the five movements were brisk. The opening Allegro ma non troppo was not too faithful to the marking, however the “cheerful feelings” brimmed with abundance. The body of strings – slimmed down from the Stravinsky – were played both with and without vibrato to bring different hues to the orchestral sound. 

The Scene by the Brook babbled along too energetically, losing its gentle ambience. The peasants were certainly very glad in their “merry gathering”, however, with such vivacity that the rhythmic clarity of the horns was on occasions smudged with some blemished intonation. The storm didn’t quite have the same tension with a swift tempo, but was replaced with a different kind of excitement. The lilting rhythms of the “Shepherd's Song” became a rushed affair at such a romp. Schwarz did find a befitting Classical elegance in the closing bars to what was, despite the momentum, a satisfyingly rousing, but boisterous performance. 

****1