Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 65: Daniel Harding leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Schnittke and Bruckner

4 September 2022


Never less than accomplished, and often revelatory, playing in the orchestra’s final Prom of 2022.

Prom 65

(Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

While this Prom was originally scheduled to feature Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93, the programme’s symphony changed at the same time as its conductor. The rest required by the Berlin Philharmonic’s chief conductor Kirill Petrenko following a foot injury and surgery meant he could only wield the baton for the first of its two visits to the Albert Hall, leaving Daniel Harding to lead the second in a performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, ‘Romantic’ (second version, 1881, ed. B. M. Korstvedt). 

In what he strives to achieve, Harding is a highly innovative conductor who at times can push tempi and ideas to extremes in his pursuit of finding the truth to a piece. His thoughtful approach, however, means he does not always conclude that a seemingly radical interpretation is the best one to apply to a particular piece. In this respect, his execution of the Bruckner might have been judged as relatively conventional, but his meticulous approach, which ensured that everything was perfectly in place, saw so much detail come to the fore that the results were quite stunning. If there were times when one was left feeling that a little more energy and panache would have been welcome, the ability to hear so many different colours, textures and features in the music created much excitement in its own right.

“Harding is a highly innovative conductor who at times can push tempi and ideas to extremes…”

Prom 65

Daniel Harding (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

The opening Bewegt, nicht zu schnell felt both taut and expansive as lines were delineated so well that they all seemed to blend perfectly. If this suggests that the delivery was very well balanced, that is true but even the playing’s essential roundedness possessed just a little welcome edge. The Andante, quasi allegretto that followed felt melancholic enough without ever falling into sentimentality. Some of the solo wind and brass playing in this movement was particularly fine, but it was when Harding made the playing sound as if it was practically coming to a standstill before mustering the most beautiful sense of flow once more that he revealed his ability to get to the heart of a piece. The horn and trumpet fanfares that begin the third movement’s Scherzo were so focused that they felt like bolts from the blue, as the precision in the conducting was plain for all to see. The final long crescendo in the Finale that moves from ‘minor-key darkness’ to ‘major-key glory’ was also especially well managed, making this a performance that truly touched the heart.

The sole piece before the interval, retained from the originally planned programme, was Schnittke’s Viola Concerto (1985). In this, soloist Tabea Zimmermann was a revelation, demonstrating immaculate precision and attention to detail throughout, while also capturing the right sense of urgency in the Allegro motto and working with the ‘vulgarity’ that emanated from the orchestra in the movement. There was a real sense in which she was at times a lone voice struggling to be heard above the throng, and this was totally in keeping with what the piece demands as opposed to the result of balance issues. The orchestra consequently supported, and responded to, Zimmermann very well, while Harding also revealed a very different side to his conducting. If in the Bruckner the emphasis was ultimately on him eliciting his interpretation of the piece from the orchestra, here he proved equally adept at responding to Zimmermann to direct the proceedings in a way that totally worked for her. It all added up to a truly memorable performance that would have been in danger of overshadowing the Bruckner had that not also been rendered particularly well.   

This Prom, like all others, was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is currently available on BBC Sounds.

• Full details of the BBC Proms season 2022 can be found here.


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