Beethoven and Bruckner at Cadogan Hall

Apr 03, 2006

Miles Berry

Whilst up in London on Friday last, I went to hear the Philharmonia at Cadogan Hall. This was the first time I’d been to this new concert hall, converted from a church, and I was impressed by how well the conversion had been done. They’ve managed to retain much of the Arts & Crafts features of the place; nod in the direction of the building’s former use, by for example, retaining pews in the gallery, and the bar; and produce one of the most comfortable concert halls in town, with a great acoustic to boot.

Of the two works played, I know the Bruckner piece (his 7th symphony) best. I think it was the first Brucker that I ‘got’, having heard a Proms broadcast years ago, and Clare and I were lucky enough to hear Haitink conduct the Dresden Staatskapelle playing it at the Proms in ’04. I’d also taken the trouble do a little homework beforehand, by listening to its edition on Radio 3’s Discovering Music. It’s a wonderful, complex piece, but, I think, very difficult to maintain a sense of the piece’s integrity and overall structure, but Ian Brown and the Philharmonia did a pretty good job on this occasion, playing the slower, lyrical passages quite beautifully, and obivously enjoying the several climaxes of the piece. The piece is also Bruckner’s tribute to Wagner, and I was struck be the references, more so this time than in the past. Having listened again to the Karajan recording, my only real criticism, and this is in retrospect, was that the forces weren’t really enough to do justice to such a monumental work.

The forces however worked brilliantly for Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto, which formed the first part of the programme. The programme note described it as his most Haydnesque concerto, and this came across well in the performance. OK, its a piece the orchestra knew well, but it was great to watch Ian Brown conducting from the piano, and this helped to highlight the dialogue between soloist and orchestra, which is something I love in concertos. Brown’s own playing was pretty impressive too, and successfully conveyed much of the piece’s emotion.