Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony rarely closes orchestral programmes, it more usually being placed as a concert opener. More's the pity, for although incomplete, it’s also the most perfectly complete work; two balanced movements winding down into a glowing sunset after which there’s nothing more to be said. Young Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund chose it to conclude a Schubert-inspired second half of this Hallé matinee at Bridgewater Hall, by far the stronger half of the concert. 

Tabita Berglund conducts the Hallé
© Tom Stephens | The Hallé

The afternoon had opened with a lacklustre account of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, featuring Berglund’s fellow Norwegian Håvard Gimse cast in the role as reluctant hero. Gimse doesn’t have a big concerto profile outside Scandinavia, being better known as a recitalist or chamber musician. Here, he was introspective and unobtrusive, almost apologetic as the soloist which, in Beethoven, just won’t do. Where was the bravado? 

Everything was delicately weighted and neatly played, but this needed a few craggy edges to bring it to life. Berglund led with a taut, bouncy style, but could do little to inject life into her soloist. The slow movement, set on a feathered of strings, was dreamy bordering on soporific, while the finale only picked up energy in the coda. This was Beethoven padded with too many soft furnishings.

Håvard Gimse, Tabita Berglund and the Hallé
© Tom Stephens | The Hallé

Dobrinka Tabakova is the Hallé’s Artist-in-Residence this season. There was no premiere here, but her Fantasy Homage to Schubert, composed for a small string orchestra in 2013. She takes as her starting point the Fantasy in C major for violin and piano, D934, incorporating it subtly into her piece which has a tantalising, elegiac quality, violas and cellos smouldering like embers dying in the grate. Berglund, eschewing her baton, caressed the contours with her long fingers, shaping long phrases persuasively. 

After a very slow opening statement, Berglund launched into the Allegro moderato of the Unfinished at a decent pace, with strong accents from the trombones. Her conducting was crisp and angular – here were the sharp edges missing from the Beethoven – and enough spirit and grandeur to make the opening movement sound truly monumental, full of incident.

The Andante con moto had a real purpose to it too, Berglund driving it very nicely indeed. There were lovely long, liquid lines from principal clarinet (Sergio Castelló López) and oboe (Stéphane Rancourt) which built into a passionate climax played for all its worth by the Hallé before the gentle wind-down. On this showing, Berglund proved herself to be a fine Schubertian.

Mark's travel to Manchester was funded by the Hallé