Conductor Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic here commence their series devoted to Leos Janaceks orchestral works. This opening salvo features three works from Janaceks late, great period: The Sinfonietta, one of the composers most successful and popular works; the Capriccio, with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet taking on the left-hand solo part, and, restored to its original, striking orchestration by Sir Charles Mackerras, the suite of instrumental interludes from Janaceks 1923 opera The Cunning Little Vixen.
This second volume of Leos Janácek's orchestral works by the fine and sympathetic Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Gardner is necessarily something of a mixed bag, with a couple of unfinished works, several pieces that more or less qualify as obscurities, and just one repertory work, the symphonic poem Taras Bulba, JW VI/15. That work from the World War I years is vintage Janácek, a programmatic evocation of scenes from Nikolai Gogol's epic novel that has the composer's trademark mixture of vividness and compression.
‘The burly Aussie tenor is now even more identified with this ill-fated protagonist than Peter Pears, the first Grimes. And everywhere Skelton has sung the part, whether at English National Opera, the Proms, the Edinburgh festival or now on this international tour of a concert staging mounted by the Bergen Philharmonic, the conductor has been Edward Gardner. Theirs is one of the great musical partnerships, and they continue to find compelling new depths in this tragic masterpiece.’ – Richard Morrison – The Times. This studio recording was made following the acclaimed production at Grieghallen, in Bergen, in 2019 (repeated in Oslo and London and reviewed above). Luxuriant playing from the Bergen Philharmonic and a stellar cast under the assured direction of Edward Gardner make this a recording to treasure.
Transposing the plot to the Italy of the 1950s, director Laurent Pelly (La Fille du Régiment in London and New York, with Natalie Dessay) offers us an absolute jewel, beautifully crafted and shot through with poetry. American Heidi Grant Murphy sings Adina, accompanied by tenor Paul Groves as Nemorino. “Doctor” Dulcamara is masterfully played by the up-front Ambrogio Maestri and Laurent Naouri‘s Belcore is delightfully repulsive. Appointed music director of the English National Opera in 2006, young British conductor Edward Gardner conducts the Paris Opera Orchestra.
Felix Mendelssohn did visit the city of Birmingham several times, but the Chandos label's Mendelssohn in Birmingham series refers for the most part to these contemporary performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner. If you've been interested in trying out an item from the series, this one can be recommended strongly. The low-key, lyrical approach of conductor Gardner works beautifully in these two pieces. Especially effective is the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, in the hands of violinist Jennifer Pike: she catches the novel role of the soloist in this concerto in a way that bigger performances do not.
Nielsen’s epic Violin Concerto was premiered in Copenhagen in February 1912, by violinist Peder Moller. Nominally the work is set in two movements; both open with a slow section and move to a faster one. Whilst unusual, this could be seen as a more usual fast – slow – fast three movement form, but with an extensive slow introduction to the first movement. The music moves quickly from one idea to the next, and overall has a bold, playful and optimistic feel. In stark contrast, although written only a few years later, the fourth symphony is more cohesive and unified as a work. Written against the background of the first world war, the work is a celebration of life itself. Just before the premier in 1916, Nielsen described it as: ‘Music is Life, and, like it, inextinguishable.’ Composed in the usual four movement form, each movement continues from the last without a break. The final movement features two sets of timpani battling each other across the orchestra.
Following their acclaimed recordings of Schoenberg with Sara Jakubiak and Britten’s Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton, Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic turn their attention to the music of Sibelius. Written in 1913 for the diva Aino Ackté, the tone poem Luonnotar draws on text from the Finnish national epic poem, the Kalevala. Its virtuosic demands are ably met here by award-wining soprano Lise Davidsen, who also feature in the Suite from Pelléas and Mélisande, music re-worked by Sibelius from his incidental music written for the first performances of Maeterlinck’s play in Helsinki, in 1905, in Swedish. The tone poem Tapiola, from 1926, is Sibelius’ last great masterpiece and evokes the forests of his native Finland.