fri 24/05/2024

Mørk, Bergen Philharmonic, Gardner, Cadogan Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Mørk, Bergen Philharmonic, Gardner, Cadogan Hall

Mørk, Bergen Philharmonic, Gardner, Cadogan Hall

Gardner’s dynamic leadership perfectly complements the Bergen sound

Water everywhere: the Bergen Philharmonic on home territoryOddleiv Apneseth

The Bergen Philharmonic recently appointed Edward Gardner as its Chief Conductor – ENO’s loss is Bergen’s gain. He is contracted to 2021, so this is the start of a long relationship. On the strength of this concert, the London leg of a UK tour, it is an ideal match.

Gardner (pictured below by Benjamin Ealovega) is a dynamic conductor, but one with an impressive ability to accommodate performing traditions. The Bergen Philharmonic recently celebrated its 250th anniversary, so it has plenty of those. The orchestra’s distinctive flavour was much in evidence here, but so too the conductor’s energy and focus, and it proved a stimulating combination.

Edward GardnerThe Bergen sound is earthy and rich. The strings project a mellow glow, rooted in a firm bass sonority. Woodwinds are often arresting in their assertive tone, but always elegant and well-balanced. The Cadogan Hall rarely hosts full-sized orchestras, and its modest scale may have contributed to this forthright impression. It was evident from the opening moments of the flute solo in "Morning" from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, projected with a graceful but muscular elegance. Grieg once led this orchestra himself, so it is a safe bet that the players have strong views about how his music should sound. That may have contributed to some apparent disagreement between conductor and players in the tempo switches at the end of "Morning" and to an unsettled feeling in the slow opening to "Hall of the Mountain King", but as soon as the full orchestra was introduced, all disagreement was forgotten.

Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk (pictured below by Johs Boe) is a player of the same school. He too has an effortlessly distinctive tone, rich in harmonics, but light enough to handle fast passagework with ease. His Elgar concerto was particularly impressive for the breadth of his conception, eschewing short-term contrasts in favour of coherent movement spans. So the two opening arpeggio figures were presented together as if a single utterance and the main melody transferred seamlessly from the strings to the soloist as a single line. In most performances, the music picks up with the second subject, but not here: Mørk and Gardner continued the sombre pace and steady legato, an approach vindicated by the soloist’s unbending concentration and flowing tone.

Truls Mørk The later movements were more conventional, and no less successful. In the second movement, Mørk occasionally struggled with the intonation of the very highest notes, but the movement succeeded thanks to his disciplined phrasing, resisting the all too common temptation to pull the music around until the pulse disappears. Mørk adopted a surprisingly light tone for the Adagio, but again applied intelligent and disciplined phrasing. The highlight of the concerto was the quiet interlude before the return of the opening theme at the end of the finale. Soloist and conductor gauged the mood perfectly, achieving a transcendental, timeless quality, yet without resorting to exaggeration or contriving Elgar’s always civilised expression.

The Bartók Concerto for Orchestra is an excellent showcase for a touring orchestra, and the Bergen Philharmonic rose to its many challenges. All the principals shone, but so too did the out-of-the-way players not usually afforded the spotlight: the principal harpist and the snare drummer both linger in the memory. Playing throughout was nimble and alert, ensemble tight and balance ideal. Best of all was Gardner himself, now conducting from memory and living every moment of this complex score. If Grieg is the orchestra’s home territory, then Bartók is clearly Gardner’s. He has a vision for this music, a vision that can easily accommodate the distinctive Bergen sound, and show it off to its best. An excellent performance that augers well for what promises to be a long and fruitful partnership.


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