After last season’s searing Walküre Act 1, Omer Meir Wellber’s first Bridgewater Hall concert as the BBC Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor proved to be a hot ticket. That such a healthy audience came out to hear a programme of Bruckner and Sofia Gubaidulina spoke volumes about the excitement in the city over this appointment.

Omer Meir Wellber © Wilfried Hösl
Omer Meir Wellber
© Wilfried Hösl

Bruckner’s music has not prospered in Manchester in recent years. Symphonies 4 and 9 were programmed within a week of each other in 2012 from The Hallé and BBC Phil respectively, but performances are otherwise an exceptional rarity. Interesting, then, that the Philharmonic should programme numbers 5, 6 (on tour) and now 7 within a few months. Based on this performance of no. 7, one can only hope that we will hear more.

Wellber’s approach to the symphony was remarkable: not for him the tired “cathedrals of sound” cliché, but rather an approach that encompassed the luscious pastoralism of Brahms and elegant song of Schubert. The symphony began before anyone had really realised, its opening string tremolo creeping into earshot from niente, before giving way to the most immaculately sculpted cello and viola line, with every nuance of the melody shaped to perfection. There was a tireless sense of forward motion through the first movement and, with an economical touch on brass and timpani, a constant awareness of aesthetic beauty.

The emotional heart of the symphony was its second movement and in particular the hauntingly beautiful playing from the Wagner tuba quartet, with the tuba proper having moved across stage to join them for the movement. The rich paragraphs unfolded with an utterly convincing sense of pacing, ultimately fading into the softest of sunsets. The Scherzo, by contrast, found some momentary fire and rage amidst its crisp rhythmic figures. The finale dawned bright and breezily with all the lightness of Schubert. The recurring rising string figure danced upwards at a quick pace from the outset, punctuated by stark wind solos with every detail highlighted in bold colour. Even the more typically Brucknerian brass paragraphs were fresh and full of life. It was a world away from the usual approach taken to this composer, but it worked with unwavering success.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello and bayan was a fascinating choice for the concert’s first half, not least because of Wellber’s own background as an accordionist. The composer’s unique soundworld was realised with assurance from the Fafner like growling low chords which open the concerto to the dashing rhythmic figures of its latter parts. Elsbeth Moser (bayan), Vadim Gluzman (violin) and Johannes Moser (cello) played with uncomplicatedly bold character, each focussing more on their contribution to the concerto’s greater structure rather than any individual fireworks. With its fixation on the number 3 and religious overtones associated with that number, the concerto was a very apt prelude to the Bruckner symphony and together the pair made for a memorable evening which promises a great deal for Wellber’s tenure.

****1