Edinburgh International Festival: Since Edward Gardner took the helm at the Bergen Phil he has transformed the orchestral sound. It is now a much bolder, tighter unit as was evident in its full-throttled account of Wagner’s overture to Reinzi.
It was an ideal match for the deeply perceptive Paul Lewis in Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It was clear from Lewis’ opening chords – the most famous in the repertoire – that this was going to be a thoughtful interpretation. There was a tender dreamlike quality to his phrasing, the notes rippling through the orchestra’s sumptuous string textures, or conversing with the flute or bassoon in a seductive fashion. His passages with the soulful horns in the adagio were heart-stopping while he brought out foot-stamping folk-elements of the finale.
Listening to Elgar’s Symphony No 1 in A flat through the lens of Gardner and the BPO was a revelation. Instead of quintessentially English pastoral music, we were immersed in a gutsy European soundworld. There were echoes of Wagner in the dazzling brass, bass heft and flowing, harp-edged phrases of the andante along with Brahms’s strident changes of tempo in the allegros. After this sensational, enlightened journey, Elgar will never sound the same again.