In their latest concert at Bridgewater Hall, the BBC Philharmonic was conducted by Carlo Goldstein, presenting three unfamiliar works in what turned out to be a thoroughly satisfying and memorable evening. First came Liszt’s Les Préludes. The claimed connection between the music and a poem by Lamartine seems rather tenuous as the composer reused music previously written for a completely different work. However, it is very easy to hear Les Préludes as a Romantic evocation, perhaps of a landscape, full of beauty from its mysterious opening to its grand conclusion. Goldstein brought out many telling details of the large orchestra creating a rich and varied sound picture, something that was going to be an even more significant feature of the second half of the concert. Goldstein managed to bring Les Préludes to a thrilling conclusion, without excessive pomposity.

Carlo Goldstein conducts the BBC Philharmonic
© BBC Philharmonic | Jenny Whitham

The orchestra was joined by Stephen Hough for Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto no. 4 in C minor. He is evidently enthusiastic about this concerto and gave a dazzling performance. As one would expect from his reputation, Hough brought a thoughtful, intellectual approach to the work but in no way at the expense of virtuosity. Pianistic fireworks were always at the service of the expression of the music but they were scintillating and virtuosic indeed. Unusually, the concerto is in just two movements, but each is subdivided into distinct sections. At the beginning the soloist and the orchestra alternate their material with the pianist’s contributions becoming ever more elaborate until the two merge. The second movement opens with a fine blend of soloist and orchestra with neither overpowering the other, all with a cheerful humour and good tunes. After a quieter, more reflective middle section a fiery solo bursts forth and the rest is dominated by a catchy melody and a dash to the end. All in all it was a great partnership between soloist and orchestra.

Stephen Hough and the BBC Philharmonic
© BBC Philharmonic | Jenny Whitham

Paul Ben-Haim was a new name to me. He was a successful German musician in the 1920s who emigrated to what was then Palestine in 1933 in view of the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany. He became a prominent Israeli composer. His Symphony no. 2 was completed six weeks after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Its style is tonal and very approachable; Falla, Walton and Respighi came to mind and there are suggestions of Jewish and Middle-Eastern music here and there, but it has its own individual sound world. There were many atmospheric instrumental solos, including a peaceful flute melody which began the symphony, and remarkable use of groupings of instruments such as percussion at the end. Sometimes I found myself wondering whether what I was listening to was calm and contemplative or whether there were more sinister undercurrents. And what about the remarkable rhythmic Scherzo? Agitated, intense or playful? I will have to listen to it again... and fortunately will be able to do so as the whole concert is being broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on 1st December. 

Carlo Goldstein didn’t even get a biography in the programme. A little research shows that he is Italian and has conducted all over the world, especially in Italy, and is a protégé of Omer Meir Wellber, the Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, who was prevented from conducting this evening because of illness. I don’t know whether he is a regular collaborator with this orchestra but the pairing seemed ideal. The orchestra played with verve and sensitivity and conveyed the beauty and value of an unknown symphony. One would never have guessed that they were performing unfamiliar repertoire.