Royal Albert Hall, London
When you’re old enough to remember seeing Sir Adrian Boult and Otto Klemperer live it’s really quite exciting to see a conductor as young as Ben Gernon, 28, doing a fine job and reassuring us all that classical music is in safe hands for decades to come.
A crisp and intelligent performance of that glorious old warhorse, Beethoven’s Emperor concerto was the high spot of this concert – noteworthy for sensitive dynamics and a certain freshness, especially in the adagio. Paul Lewis played it with warm maturity and precision. And I always judge any performance of the E flat concerto by the handling of that beautiful link passage between the adagio and the rondo – maybe one of the most exquisitely lyrical few bars Beethoven ever wrote. Here the lingering rubato was nicely balanced before it danced triumphantly away.
The evening had begun with the world premiere of Tansy Davies’s What Did We See? – an orchestral suite from Between Worlds. A four movement suite extrapolated by the composer from her 9/11 opera, it is moving (once you’ve read the programme notes and understood what it’s about) and musically interesting. It uses, for example, a battery of unusual percussion and requires six percussionists to play gong, horizontal bass drum, cymbals sounded by passing a rod vertically through the centre hole, xylophone, glockenspiel, various rattles and shakers and a strange bowed bell – among many other things. There are evocative, chittering percussive sounds in the strings too – produced by specialist bowing and tapping as well as atmospheric glissandi. All this is, I suspect, pretty difficult to play but the BBC Philharmonic rose ably enough to the challenge.
After the interval came an uplifting performance of Brahms Second Symphony conducted without baton – as also for the Davies and the Beethoven. For the Brahms he didn’t use a score either. As always that creates a strong line of very direct communication between conductor and players. They gave us an articulately melodious first movement, a gently sombre contrasting adagio and an allegretto at cracking pace with emphasis on the busy strings, every note clear. Then came a resounding allegro with lots of energy, bounce and passion. The roar of applause at the end was well earned.