First, there was a wonderful rendering of Beethoven’s second piano concerto. Christian Ihle Hadland, no lightweight himself, nevertheless brought a delightfully light touch to the piece, full of musicality and elegance. I have seen a young pianist belt out the Emperor concerto at the Proms with as much subtlety as a road accident, to such an extent that I felt sure the Steinway needed to be rebuilt afterwards. But this was quite different, and reminded me that gentle and subtle is good. The conductor, Vasily Petrenko, who looked about nineteen years old on the podium, controlled the Oslo Philharmonic with humour and authority; his facial expressions directed to various parts of the orchestra were often all that was necessary to achieve his wishes.
Since the concert started with the piano concerto, and the piano was prepared, the prommers were denied the opportunity to yell ‘Heave!’ from those in the arena, answered by a ‘Ho!’ from the gallery as the piano lid was lifted. Instead, they broke into wild applause when the young concert leader, Elise Båtnes, played the ‘A’ on the piano for the orchestra to tune to. Whether or not she was prepared for the reception, she certainly entered into the spirit, waving her violin in the air, hugely amused.
The Bruckner, though, was the highlight of the evening for me. I am very familiar with his fourth symphony, ‘The Romantic’, but this was the first time I had heard it in concert. It did not disappoint. Poor old Bruckner! If one is to believe Wikipedia, he proposed, unsuccessfully, to a number of young girls but never married. He was an accomplished organist; a simple provincial man, described by Mahler as ‘half simpleton, half God’. After listening to the eighth symphony at a Prom years ago, Bernard Levin wrote in The Times the following day, ‘Bury me to Bruckner!’
The symphony was magnificent, with its strong brass, counterpointed sometimes with quite lilting almost dance-like music from the strings. When I was at Essex University, Gordon Crosse, an English composer, was in residence; during a group discussion on Mahler, I asked him about Bruckner. He was totally dismissive, talking about endless scales, arpeggios and repetitions. Well, sorry Gordon, but Bruckner is quite magnificent in the concert hall, particularly with the enthusiastic Prommers.
It was a most enjoyable concert, tainted only by around a dozen of the audience who seemed incapable of stifling coughs etc. Several people near me did successfully stifle coughs and sneezes so it can be done. There were a few occasions when I could have quite cheerfully strangled the coughers, particularly during the quiet passages in the Beethoven.