The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Review: Big Bruckner Weekend

Huw Lewis reports back from the Big Bruckner Weekend which ‘blew the doors off’ The Glasshouse
The Chorus of the Royal Northern Sinfonia perform ‘pop-up’ motets in the foyer of The Glasshouse during the Big Bruckner Weekend.

Rumour has it that The Glasshouse bosses were nervous nobody would turn up, having programmed an entire weekend of music by a cultish but heavy-going Austrian country boy born 200 years ago.

Forget the nerves – the Big Bruckner Weekend pulled in packed houses drawn by the unique opportunity to hear the composer’s final three symphonies on consecutive days interpreted by conductors who brought widely contrasting approaches.

There was a true festival feel, too, with pop-up foyer performances of Bruckner’s motets by the Royal Northern Sinfonia Chorus, conductor interviews and panel talks. The Glasshouse is made for weekends like this. All that was lacking was the celebratory merch. 

Alpesh Chauhan conducted the BBBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner’s 9th Symphony with ‘stunning maturity and confidence’ at the Big Bruckner Weekend at The Glasshouse

The rapid development of Domingo Hindoyan as a Bruckner conductor is wonderful to watch, and while his Friday night performance of the 7th Symphony with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic did not, for me, quite reach the heights of last year’s 4th Symphony there was still so much to enjoy.  Hindoyan draws lyricism from delicate woodwind lines which in other hands feel perfunctory, while his pacing of the final two movements had a fire that reminded me of Sir Colin Davis’s approach to this piece.

On Saturday night Sir Mark Elder and the Halle Orchestra arrived with a brass section big enough to blow the doors off The Glasshouse in the massive 8th Symphony

All that was lacking was the celebratory merch. 

Sir Mark placed the lower strings in the centre of the orchestra, violins split either side and horns and brass spread right across the back to create a wall of sound to make Phil Spector blush. His mastery of the symphony’s architecture, particularly its many transitions, built a compelling momentum right through to the ecstatic final climax.

That was a hard act to follow, but Alpesh Chauhan conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with stunning maturity and confidence to close the weekend on the unfinished 9th Symphony.  This was an interpretation of swagger and capacious gravity, its pauses hanging endlessly but perfectly, full of crisp interplay between the strings and emphatic entrances. For me this was the stand-out concert. It will live long in the memory.

Tim Burke, Chorus Director, conducts the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia in ‘pop-up’ motets in the foyer of The Glasshouse during the Big Bruckner Weekend

A big shout out, too, for the Chorus of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, working overtime with those pop-up motets. I missed their Great Mass on Saturday afternoon (family commitments) and feel like I’m going to regret that more and more in the weeks ahead, such was the buzz this matinee concert generated.

I did get to see the formidable Maria Wloszczowska lead her RNS colleagues through a performance of the String Quintet that was equal parts humour and stridency, and which featured an aching slow movement that pre-echoes the best of Richard Strauss’ writing for strings.


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