In a recent interview on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Edward Gardner, the Bergen Philharmonic’s principal conductor, said the orchestra’s tone was almost old-fashioned, with a ‘burry string sound’. Yet, he said, the players still manage to have a ‘chamber music energy’.
Sheffield City Hall was fuller than usual, so perhaps the audience knew what was in store. They might nevertheless have thought that Grieg’s Lyric Suite was of little importance compared to the weightier works to come, but Gardner certainly didn’t and the energy he referred to was much in evidence.
The next, undeniably weightier work, was Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with the Norwegian Cellist Truls Mørk. Orchestra and cellist are on tour together, but even so, the understanding between them, and the polish in the performance were remarkable; at one point for instance, in possibly the most difficult passage (the allegro molto at the end of the second movement) cellist and lead violinist smiled at each other. Perhaps here Gardner’s chamber music analogy was in evidence, but that certainly didn’t detract from the nobility and grandeur.
Touring orchestras must get tired, but this one kept the energy and the accuracy going through the nervously intricate rhythms of Walton’s First Symphony to its dramatic conclusion. Sheffield was fortunate to receive this visit and its citizens responded with unusually explosive enthusiasm.
Sheffield City Hall