Grieg’s Piano Concerto, BBC NOW, St David’s Hall

November 17, 2019 by

‘Heroes and Heartache’ is the title of the latest concert from BBC NOW. This double pairing of both Greig and Tchaikovsky is an appealing combination (both composers had much respect for one-another) though it would still fit under the banner of popular classical.

Music from Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt is a crowd pleaser. Greig, created some of his most well-known music within and the opening Morning is pleasing, but its over exposure makes you find little in it. The Death of Åse, (the titular character’s mother) is anything but typical as its mood is profound, clinging to you in its ever-increasing somber atmosphere. Anitra’s Dance is a perfumed addition to this suite and has charming qualities, adding to the exotic nature of the play’s setting. In the Hall of the Mountain King needs little introduction and the players hurried along with the beat to an absurd and surreal conclusion. It’s not the Alton Towers theme for nothing.

The programme included more Greig with his Piano Concerto, a beloved work, one of my own favourites and an all round good time. There was a brief, unsure period before Yevgeny Sudbin arrived on stage to play. There were moments of fierce energy whilst playing, though I was alerted by him being slightly early for a section in the first movement. He has an ethereal grace on the keys, though some moments felt rushed and not in time with the orchestra. Having said that the slow middle movement set up a glorious balm for each listener. His gentle handling was soft and touching, a humbling experience. The finale was bonkers and Greig shows off his youthful energy in the score, though I think we cherish the opening moment more for good reason.

Conductor Joseph Swensen came into his own for Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. The ‘Pathétique’ always makes for satisfying symphonic glances, the memorable melodies and heightened dramatic grip are what makes it still electric today. We ponder its meaning since the composer would die a few days after its premiere, though we can all agree this is a finely crafted symphony, perhaps Tchaikovsky’s best. Swensen was swept away with it, a feeling seen in every one of his swaying, hurtling gestures. The end of the third movement, makes some think it’s wrapping up, but this mighty rumble does not end the work, but rather an anguished Adagio.

BBC NOW wrap the up the year with a festive selection of concerts: Winter Afternoon on 10th December 2019 at Hoddinott Hall, WMC will feature Glazunov and Tchaikovsky, with cellist Anastasia Kobekina. Handel’s Messiah is on 11th December 2019 & their annual Christmas Celebrations is on Friday 13th December 2019, both at St David’s Hall (the later also at Brangwyn Hall, Swansea 16th December 2019).

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