Denmark's pre-eminent composer of the 19th century Niels Wilhelm Gade has received a slighting hand from posterity and conductor John Storgårds' gesture in resurrecting his First Symphony for this Manchester concert might be considered an act of charity. It is a sunlit work, full of the optimism of youth (Gade was 25 when he composed it) with many of the qualities you expect to find in a Haydn symphony. Subtitled 'On Zealand's Fair Plains', it takes as its inspiration – shockingly – the same source that would later inspire Schoenberg's Gurrelieder: astonishing that King Waldemar's Hunt should foundation two such disparate works. Hearing it for the first time, I was reminded of Schumann, or of early Brahms before he had escaped the shadow of his mentor but nothing that suggested an original voice or an unfairly neglected talent. The BBC Philharmonic did it more than justice, entering into its carefree spirit with an ease that belied the precision and (evidently) careful preparation that had gone into rehearsals.  

John Storgårds © Marco Borggreve
John Storgårds
© Marco Borggreve

The symphony's first performance was given in Leipzig by Mendelssohn, whose Violin Concerto provided the next item. Arguably the second most popular work of its kind (after Bruch's), it received a delicate peformance, full of poetic insight, from rising Russian soloist Alina Pogostkina. A work poised on the threshold between Classicism and nascent Romanticicsm, it was gratifying to savour Mendelssohn's limpid orchestration as the background to Pogostkina's finely poised account of the first movement. Pogostkina is an appealing, not overassertive presence and the concerto seemed to play to all her strengths, not least the ability to maintain an elegant line in the opening section while finisihg the movement with an unexpectedly blazing cadenza.  

When performing at its Manchester base under Storgårds, the BBC Philharmoic seems to have an informal policy of programming four works of roughly equal length in preference to the traditional overture/concerto/symphony blueprint. The second half of tonight's concert began with Anton Webern's arrangement of JS Bach's Ricercar A6 from The Musical Offering, a sublimely twisted version of a fugue, full of inter-war angst and played with appropriate weight and gravity by the orchestra under Storgårds' easy baton. Although a mere eight minutes in length (the seating re-arrangment to accommodate the reduced forces took almost as long), it illustred the excellent rapport the band evidently has with this conductor.

The finale came with Sibelius' final symponic work, the daringly titled Seventh Symphony. Just over twenty minutes' in length and played as a single movement, the composer famously dithered over whether to pass it off as a symphonic fantasia rather than a fully-fledged symphony. But in a performance as convincing and organic as this one, it's hard to think how it could be anything else. The famously dark opening theme on the trombones was splendidly resonant and Storgårds proved a capable navigator of its shifting moods of moods and resonances and sudden ellisions between darkness and light. A very satisfying conclusion to a programme that successfully blended the familiar with the less familiar and the obscure.  

****1