BBCSO/Gardner review – Viennese romanticism in assured hands

Barbican, London
A programme of Schoenberg, Brahms and Fried afforded wonderful discoveries and some emotional twists and turns

When it received its premiere in 1902, the string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) was Schoenberg’s first work to attract attention, and controversy. It was programmatic chamber music, a single movement following the dramatic outline of a poem of the same name by Richard Dehmel, describing two lovers walking through a moonlit wood.

Dehmel was a fashionable and rather risque writer in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and other composers were drawn to his work, including Oskar Fried, who had been a pupil of Humperdinck, but who is better remembered now as a conductor (a champion of Mahler especially) than for his music. Two years after Schoenberg’s premiere, Fried made a setting of Verklärte Nacht for mezzo, tenor and orchestra. It is little known, but, preceded by the string-orchestra version of Schoenberg’s work, it got a rare British outing in Edward Gardner’s concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with Christine Rice and Stuart Skelton as the soloists.

Fried’s 10-minute setting seemed to me a wonderful discovery, which manages to convey the emotional twists and turns of Dehmel’s text in a third of the time it takes Schoenberg. Brief arias for each of the protagonists alternate with duet sections, in a style that recalls both the intimacy of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and the grand passions of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; it comes close to an operatic scena at times, and Rice and Skelton’s performance never stinted on dramatic impact.

The rest of the concert hardly strayed from that Viennese world. It ended with Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet, sounding fabulously idiomatic and assured in the BBCSO’s performance, even at the breathless speed that Gardner set for the finale. And it also included another rarity, a “symphonic poem” for tenor and orchestra by Franz Lehár, Fieber.

If the subject matter, the hallucinations of a dying soldier, is far away from the fluffy world of Lehár’s operettas, the music of Fieber doesn’t distance itself so convincingly. However, it’s undoubtedly a skilful stylistic mix, which at one point produces an unlikely hybrid of Berlioz and Johann Strauss as it merges the Rákóczi and Radetzky marches. The scoring for a large orchestra certainly sets the soloist heldentenor-like challenges, but Skelton took them in his stride.

• Andrew Clements did not attend this concert in person; his review is based on the Radio 3 broadcast, which is available on BBC Sounds.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

BBCSO/Runnicles – review
Detlev Glanert's Brahms-Fantasie companion piece to a Brahms symphony was expertly atmospheric but outshone by the real thing, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

25, Mar, 2012 @3:03 PM

BBCSO/Gardner – review
Under Edward Gardner's leadership, the orchestra here reaffirmed its credentials as a world-class ensemble, writes George Hall

George Hall

14, Dec, 2011 @2:58 PM

Article image
BBCSO/Gardner review – a thrilling show of ferocity and feistiness
Edward Gardner dug deeper into Janáček, while violinist Tasmin Little explored the languid lyricism of Szymanowski

Andrew Clements

08, Jan, 2017 @2:28 PM

BBCSO/Gardner, Barbican Hall, London

Barbican Hall, London

Erica Jeal

16, May, 2007 @11:23 PM

BBCSO / Gardner, Snape Maltings

Snape Maltings

Tom Service

22, Jun, 2005 @10:54 AM

Article image
Prom 32: BBCSO/Gardner – review

Edward Gardner displayed an expert understanding of colour and texture in works by Lutosławski and Holst, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

08, Aug, 2013 @3:04 PM

Prom 32: BBCSO/Gardner – review
Soloist Christian Tetzlaff let the music live, breathe and sing with a directness that few can equal today, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

08, Aug, 2011 @9:52 AM

Article image
Aurora O/Collon/BBCSO/Gardner review – pulling out the party tricks
The Aurora Orchestra played Mozart’s Jupiter with spirit – and from memory; and Edward Gardner confidently conducted a satirical new piece by Lera Auerbach

George Hall

02, Aug, 2016 @1:40 PM

Article image
Prom 41: BBCSO/Gardner review – Vaughan Williams rarity of strikingly good music
Edward Gardner led a fine performance of choral music written after the first world war, with Jean-Guihen Queyras a refined soloist in Elgar’s cello concerto

Andrew Clements

13, Aug, 2018 @12:21 PM

Article image
BBCSO/Oramo review – totally assured conducting, immaculate playing
Sakari Oramo achieves incisive clarity in his juxtaposition of Nielsen’s great fifth symphony with works by Ravel and Prokofiev

Andrew Clements

12, Apr, 2015 @2:05 PM