BBC Proms reviews

Prom 18: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Nott @ Royal Albert Hall, London

29 July 2009

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall

An empty auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

There seemed to be a conflict of interest in Prom 18. The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, under their Principal Conductor Jonathan Nott, were here to present a concert of Austro-German music that spanned 150 years, but while the programme had the virtues of breadth and consistency, ultimately the individual works proved uneasy bedfellows.

Jörg Widmann’s Con brio functioned here as curtain-raiser but “hell-raiser” would be another apt description. It begins with explosive staccato from the brass and kettledrum, the latter functioning as quasi-soloist throughout, and other instruments are called on to be percussive: the woodwind section huff down their flutes and oboes, and tap their clarinet ends, and the strings frequently employ the brash col legno technique. Its allusions to Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies are subtle, and the themes rather undeveloped, but it was exhilarating nonetheless.

It’s not often that Mozart is cowed into submission but his Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major sounded exaggeratedly refined almost ridiculous after the Widmann even given the appearance of the robust and folkish ‘Strasbourger’ theme. It would have been tempting to counter this effect with coarseness, but Nott, and violinist Arabella Steinbacher, were wise in seeking to highlight its own, considerable, merits. The orchestra set leisured tempi and Steinbacher negotiated her line with delicacy and control, but rose to the challenge of Sam Franko’s lengthy and elaborate cadenzas.

Bruckner’s mighty Symphony No. 3 in D minor concluded the evening. It has often been referred to as the “Wagner” symphony, after Bruckner’s rather obsequious dedication, and in this 1873 (original) edition the influences are explicit: in its references to Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger and, not least, in its length. The BSO guided us through the mists with verve and conviction but in this unedited version the various motifs felt slightly dwarfed and disjointed.

buy Jonathan Nott MP3s or CDs
Spotify Jonathan Nott on Spotify

More on Jonathan Nott
Prom 18: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Nott @ Royal Albert Hall, London