Former chief conductor Gianandrea Noseda made a well-received return to the BBC Philharmonic, conducting a popular programme of Verdi, Bruch and Beethoven.

Gianandrea Noseda © Sussie Ahlburg
Gianandrea Noseda
© Sussie Ahlburg

Noseda and the BBC Phil attracted widespread attention in 2006 when they offered free downloads of their entire Beethoven symphony cycle. Demand was huge, with some 1.6 million copies downloaded. It was hence unsurprising to see such a large audience turn out for the real thing. Noseda’s interpretation tonight was slightly softer around the edges than his vigorous 2006 performance. It retained much of the tight rhythmic sharpness, but there was a heightened sense of lyricism in many parts. This was Beethoven the proto-romantic, with a pleasing mix of the clarity of historically-informed performance and the rich warmth of twentieth century Beethoven performance.

Noseda conducted much of the first movement in a muscular three-in-a-bar, giving a punchy rhythmic base, but freely encouraged some elegant wind playing on top of this. The symphony opened with an airy and free account of the main theme above a crisply pulsating quaver accompaniment. The combination of precision in the strings and lyricism in the wind made some of the later passages a joy to behold. Elspeth Dutch of the CBSO, guest-leading the horns, gave some beautifully articulated solos here, recounting the main theme with delicacy and superb intonation.

The architecture of the slow movement was laid out with perfect clarity in an engaging long structure. Within this, there was some deeply affecting, mournful playing. The basses gave their opening grace notes a sense of space, adding greatly to the dignity of the solemn funeral march. This made the momentary glimpses of major-key resolution all the more striking, particularly so in Jennifer Galloway’s fine oboe playing above string triplets. The ensuing impassioned passages carried great emotional weight, as did the small moments of silence later on, subtly emphasised to good effect.

The Scherzo was taken at a whirlwind pace, making for some boisterous tutti passages and impressive woodwind playing. The trio was taken at full tempo, where the horns played with infectious joie de vivre. The finale continued with the same energy and fullest Promethean joy. Despite a couple of moments of unsteadiness, there was a great deal of good playing from all corners. There was a soft sense of searching in the final minutes, the troubles of the slow movement resurfacing gently before a triumphant coda closed the symphony emphatically.

Earlier on, Verdi’s overture to Nabucco had opened the concert with a similar sense of quiet yearning for revolution to that found in parts of the Eroica. The overture is less familiar than the Hebrew Slaves’ chorus which, in a slow waltz variation, forms its central parts. The soft playing from the strings created a beautifully reflective tone in this passage, murmuring even more distantly and longingly than in the chorus proper. By contrast, the overture closed with a festive outburst of percussive good cheer, making for a well judged and performed concert opener.

French violinist Renaud Capuçon was soloist for Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. The heart of his performance was in a beautifully played slow movement. He maintained lovely warmth of tone, well matched by the orchestra. Even at the movement’s climax, the playing was still quite broadly spaced and gentle. Later on the atmosphere developed from sighing nostalgia to more intensely felt wistfulness. It acted as a perfect transition from the turmoil of the first movement, marked by strong articulation, to the exuberant finale, which zipped along with excellent energy. There was also great delicacy in the solo playing, making for some light and airy moments. The softer corners remembered the melancholy of the slow movement, but in the end it was the sparkling vigour which had the last word.

This was a highly enjoyable concert, with a particularly good performance in the Beethoven. The audience seemed very happy to see Noseda back in Manchester, giving a large ovation after the symphony. Both orchestra and conductor seemed to enjoy their reunion, with Noseda walking through the strings to thank each section at the end.

***11