BBC Philharmonic/Mena review – a palpable sense of commitment

Royal Albert Hall, London
A Luke Bedford premiere had strong ideas but lacked coherence, while Bruckner’s Third Mass was measured and spacious

The centrepiece of this Prom given by the BBC Philharmonic under the orchestra’s chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, was a substantial new piece by Luke Bedford, scored for large orchestra and lasting some 23 minutes. Its title is Instability.

Bedford has described how his original plan was to write a set of five or six movements, but the final version turned out quite differently: the eventually continuous result now cuts suddenly between strikingly contrasting ideas – not, Bedford hopes, in a random fashion, though certainly in an unexpected way.

He also suggests that Instability reflects “a world of upheaval, of things spiralling out of control”; current events such as the financial crisis, and particularly its manifestation in Greece, have apparently been much in his mind.

It’s unsurprising, therefore, that the piece includes some extreme gestures – abrasive chords that slice through the texture, passages recalling the frenetic pealing of bells, deep organ notes that seem to presage catastrophe.

These ideas certainly hit home, even if the piece as a whole – perhaps deliberately – lacks a strong sense of coherence. Mena and the players nevertheless brought a palpable sense of commitment to it.

Preceding it was Schubert’s Tragic Symphony, written when the composer was just 19 and on his way to greater things; even so, to make their mark its early romantic tensions needed a sharper and more concentrated focus than they received here.

More satisfying was Bruckner’s Third Mass, which Mena unfolded in a broadly measured and spacious account. Though the Spanish sopranos were stretched by their high notes, the sizeable forces of the Orfeón Pamplonés provided a solid choral underpinning to the well-matched quartet of soloists – soprano Luba Orgonášová, mezzo Jennifer Johnston, tenor Robert Dean Smith and bass-baritone Derek Welton – to rise above, in an interpretation whose stature increased as it proceeded.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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