As Beethoven 250 celebrations are in full swing, Omer Meir Wellber and the BBC Philharmonic joined the party with a more unusual programme offering works with Haydnesque influences. There were just two works in the programme — the Fourth Symphony and the Mass in C major – which showcased the versatility of the BBC Philharmonic and virtuosity of the Dresden Chamber Choir.

Omer Meir Wellber
© Jens Gerber

The Fourth Symphony is often overshadowed by its siblings, the Eroica and the Fifth, but Wellber demonstrated that there is much to admire in this work. Conducting without a score, his crystal clear gestures revealed a deep understanding of the work. The symphony’s vivacious energy owes much to the models of Haydn. The Adagio introduction to the first movement was very dark in Wellber’s hands. The dynamic range was extremely varied and the hushed moments were remarkable from the orchestra. Giving way to the Allegro vivace, the first movement bounded along. The strings had unity and the woodwind playing was excellent, setting a very high bar for the rest of the evening. The Adagio second movement brimmed with control and restraint, the strings and woodwind superbly balanced and the exquisite phrasing shone through, the reverie being broken only by some blemished playing from the horns. Wellber continued to shape the motifs of the Scherzo with the same level of detail and brought different colours to the Trio section. Continuing to intrinsically shape the musical ideas in the Allegro ma non troppo finale, Wellber brought a strong character and energy throughout. 

Beethoven’s C major Mass dates from 1807, a year later than the Fourth and another work overshadowed by a bigger sibling, in this case the Missa solemnis. The classical character of this work is due to Beethoven’s studying Haydn’s masses at this time, which he described as “inimitable masterpieces”. Joining the BBC Philharmonic were the Dresden Chamber Choir and four soloists. Throughout the mass, it’s the choir which is central. With just 43 members, the choir packed a punch with its beautiful sound. Using Germanic Latin, their diction was crystal clear and the unity with which they placed their constants was impressive. The opening Kyrie was shaped allowing the inner voices to be savoured. The choir made a much bolder sound in the Gloria, Wellber restraining the orchestra to allow them to shine. The soloists were admirable here, the heady vibrato from Emily Dorn and Rachel Frenkel contrasted against the purer and cleaner sound of the choir. The Credo was characterised by subtleties of dynamics which had been a feature of the symphony. The unaccompanied choral sections of the Sanctus were enhanced by the Bridgewater Hall's acoustic, further highlighting the blend and intonation of the choir, but the soloists lacked the same level of balance. Maintaining the high standards, this five-star choir didn’t wane whatsoever, delivering the Agnus Dei with complete conviction. 

Uniting two Cinderellas of Beethoven’s output demonstrated the greatness of these so-called ‘lesser’ works.