BBC PHILHARMONIC Bridgewater Hall
THE audience for Friday’s BBC Philharmonic programme must have been one of the best for a regular series concert in
this season – showing, once again, that two masterworks and two master
musicians on the bill will do the business. Manchester
The master musicians were conductor Jesús López-Cobos – a great and vastly experienced Spaniard making his belated debut with the BBC Philharmonic – and familiarly favourite pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.
The opening piece (not quite an acknowledged masterwork, and the only one linked to the season’s America-and-Bernstein theme, incidentally) was Hindemith’s Konzertmusik for strings and brass.
López-Cobos made it sound like a masterpiece, though. With a full complement of 60 strings and a wonderful brass choir, he had the resources for a resonant and magisterial sound, making such an effective close of the first section of the music that it gained a little spontaneous applause.
And in the long, slow melody of the second there was a surprisingly passionate atmosphere, opening my eyes, at least, to a new aspect to Hindemith.
A long, slow melody is also the highspot of Ravel’s piano concerto in G, in its serene central movement: Bavouzet played this with all the wistful beauty you could for. He, and López-Cobos, found expressiveness in the bluesy opening movement, too (not always the case), with nostalgia, melancholy and patches of almost infinite sadness catching the listener unawares. It was musicality of the highest order, and the effortless brilliance of the finale proved a show-stopper.
López-Cobos conducted Mahler’s fourth symphony from memory, and he and the Phil (with guest leader Sarah Oates) gave a performance of classic dimensions, skilfully poised and balanced, incorporating mellow smoothness and electric energy.
After the sunlit landscapes of the opening, the ‘Pied Piper’ second movement had a gorgeous lilt to it, with episodes of quicksilver incisiveness, and in the third the strings were sweet, accurate and achingly beautiful, its moment of ecstasy full and noble but not blaring.
The soprano soloist for the finale, Ruby Hughes, has the pure, youthful sound it was surely meant for, and though she was a little over-conscious of the microphone in front of her at first, the gentle blend of voice and orchestra was near-perfect by the end.