The BBC Philharmonic’s Bridgewater Hall season got off to a charming and challenging start with John Wilson on the podium and Alexander Gavrylyuk playing Prokoviev’s third piano concerto.
John Wilson’s been visiting Manchester for a number of years, and his trademark championing of ‘light orchestral’ music of the mid-20th century, sometimes considered infra dig by high-minded programmers, made itself apparent in the last piece we heard – Eric Coates’ Dancing Nights. It’s in the series brochure as an item in the concert, but the programme booklet on the night omitted it, leaving Wilson to add it as an encore and explain to the audience that he’s recording Coates with the Phil at the moment and hopes we’ll all buy the CD when it’s out in December.
He had something much weightier to offer before that in the shape of Walton’s first symphony. British music is one of his other big interests, and his reading, weighty and emotionally committed as you might expect from the BBC Philharmonic, took flight particularly in the third movement – the ‘Andante, con malincolia’ which was characterized by not just melancholy but a sense of near-despair, with a depth of pathos and passion growing as the movement progressed and a finely shaped climax.
The coda of the first movement had been powerful and gripping, and the real problem (as ever with this work) was how to make the finale – which sounds at first like a dummy run for the Crown Imperial march which was soon to follow it, for the 1937 Coronation – carry enough weight to balance all that’s gone before. But under Wilson’s baton its concluding apostrophising was well paced and carried a sense of inevitability and pride.
The first part of the programme was all-Russian. Alexander Gavrylyuk brought breathtaking virtuosity to Prokoviev’s Piano concerto no. 3, a piece which sounds like what it was meant to be, namely a vehicle for solo display, with its own big tune in the last movement to prove that its composer could match Rachmaninov for soaring melody, too.
It was preceded by Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon overture – a curious blend of late-1930s hyperactivity for orchestral strings with a self-consciously spicy burst of jazzy Western-style syncopation – an excellent starter for any concert and brilliantly executed for this one.
And it was followed by Gavrylyuk’s own solo encore – a relaxing and lovable contrast with the frenzy of Prokoviev in the shape of Schumann’s opening of Kinderszenen: ‘Von fremden Länder und Menschen’.
John Wilson c Chris Christodoulou