Any concert at the Lighthouse with James Feddeck at the helm is a hotly-anticipated event, and this one was no exception. It began with ‘Vyšehrad’ in an account involving nicely dovetailed episodes and well-paced climaxes – its evocations of the past served with drama and detail in abundance. Where the opening pages lacked mystery (harps too prominent) the elegiac conclusion was touching.
Grieg’s Piano Concerto drew a powerful and unindulgent account from Saleem Ashkar who served the music’s grandeur and contemplation with varying degrees of success. From the outset an assertive timpani-roll claimed attention and gave dramatic impetus to Ashkar’s pulverising opening flourish– its flamboyance mercifully not transferred into exaggerated gestures. Instead, Ashkar pursued an undemonstrative course, bringing Mozartean clarity with a diamond-bright tone at the forefront of his armoury. There was plenty of muscle when required and he didn’t prioritise safety over accuracy, leading to playing that, whilst not always accurate, was tremendously invigorating. The first-movement cadenza traversed dreamy introspection to thunderous rhetoric, but his tendency to drive too hard on did not always bring dividends. A sudden tempo shift in the middle of the Adagio took some of the players by surprise in a movement otherwise notable for affection and tenderness from all concerned. The Finale was a slapdash affair, somewhat harried until Anna Pyne’s soothing flute brought relief. If there was further haste from Ashkar, the closing pages delivered seat-of-the-pants virtuosity in a grandstand finish.
Carl Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony erupted with striking force, Feddeck eager to confront the music’s wilful belligerence and emotional instability. In the opening movement (the score is continuous) pugnacious and pastoral qualities found a natural outlet, rage and release finely integrated, wistful innocence and its gradual transformation and accumulating grandeur superbly controlled. Chamber sonorities come to the fore in the intermezzo: Nielsen’s vision of a village band, complete with chattering woodwind, was nicely captured, even if at times the whimsy wandered directionless. Purpose was restored with the arrival of tensile strings for the slow movement, a grab-bag of idiosyncratic touches including story-book brass chorales that bring their own special atmosphere. Fabulously taut string-playing created just the right suspense before the clash-of-the-titans timpani – one front stage-left, the other centre-back – rather than stereophonically and rocking the venue in its savagery, Feddeck conducting with passion, feet rarely on the rostrum. This was a gripping performance, the BSO on fabulous form, the programme’s strap-line “The Power of Life” never more appropriate.