Presenting Grieg with a freshness and grandeur
Hadland brings new take on Norway’s greatest piano concerto
Christian Ihle Hadland
The old saw has it that performances on period instruments are like cleaning the varnish off the work of an old master and showing the true colours for the first time in centuries.
As a generalisation, it doesn’t stand up. But the effect – hearing something familiar in a way that seems utterly new – is a fact of life, and it is not restricted to any particular kind of instrument or ideology.
It’s tempting to think that Christian Ihle Hadland’s way with the Grieg Piano Concerto at the NCH last Wednesday was special because he’s Norwegian, and was playing Norway’s greatest piano concerto with a Norwegian orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic. But I suspect it is that Hadland’s view of the work is, well, special. It was as if he’d decided to dispense with all bluster, to express sentiment without getting sentimental, and to give the ultimate treat of presenting a familiar work with such freshness that it was easy to imagine you might never have heard it properly before.
Hadland’s was one of the mildest, gentlest accounts of the work that I’ve ever heard, though it wasn’t by any means shy of grandeur when it was needed. And it was at all times sensitively accompanied by the orchestra’s new principal conductor, Vasily Petrenko. Utterly compelling.
Petrenko’s opening performance of Sibelius’s Finlandia was a little unsettled, everything not aligned with the necessary accuracy. But his handling of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, Winter Dreams, was a real pleasure: atmospheric, strongly characterised, and delving below the surface so that bits of background that other conductors treat as secondary didn’t sound secondary at all. The orchestra sounded on splendid form.
On Thursday, RTÉ announced that John Wilson, currently principal guest conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and a man who surrounds himself with a real buzz, is to succeed David Brophy as the orchestra’s principal conductor from next January.
The announcement was timed for the day of Wilson’s Essential Classics programme with the orchestra — Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Lehár’s Count of Luxembourg Waltzes (stretching the meaning of essential a little too far, surely), and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The Dvorak was racy and exciting, but with the kish-boom a bit too prominent for my taste, an inevitable risk when the piece is played with the small string section available to the RTÉCO. Wilson handled the Emperor Concerto with discipline and reserve.
Unfortunately, the evening’s soloist, Danny Driver, was no better than dully efficient. I didn’t manage to stay for the second half, as I had to get home and pack for a red-eye flight to Bucharest for a first visit to the Enescu Festival.
A Mega event
The Enescu Festival is a mega-event, with the kind of line-up to make any Irish music-lover green with envy. It runs for 28 days, and encompasses more than 90 events.
The month’s offerings include a complete concert performance of Wagner’s Ring from the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marek Janowski, a stream of leading international orchestras (including the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, the London, Munich, and Royal Stockholm Philharmonics), early music ensembles (Europa Galante, La Venexiana, Armonia Atenea, Hesperion XXI, Accademia Bizantina), and a line-up of soloists that includes Yuja Wang, Radu Lupu, Daniel Barenboim, Vladimir Spivakov, Pinchas Zukerman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Christian Zacharias, Emanuel Ax, Evgeny Kissin, Stephen Hough, Maxim Vengerov, Julian Rachlin, Hilary Hahn, Vadim Repin, and Murray Perahia. The national opera company is contributing Verdi’s Otello and Enescu’s Oedipe. The programme book alone would take anyone a number of sittings to absorb.