American principal conductor Andrew Litton led the Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester, one of the world’s oldest orchestras, in an appealing program at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, as part of the first U.S. tour in the Norwegian ensemble’s 242-year history. Held in a loosely termed “arts center,” rather than a true concert hall, the intimate space and dry acoustic of the venue were most attractive in many ways, though less so in others. The dry acoustic sharpened the array of colors and perfect balance presented by André Watts in Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. Watts’s clean passagework was all the more impressive in the dry acoustic, while the rubato in the second movement (Adagio) came off naturally – Litton only had to begin to slightly broaden a gesture for the orchestra to momentarily alter the pace. The third movement includes an instance when an orchestral tutti suddenly halts to allow for a dazzling burst from the piano rich enough in color to replace the orchestra. Conductor, soloist, orchestra, and audience alike fully enjoyed the plethora of attractive themes (many of them Norwegian folk tunes) from Sunday’s performance of the Grieg concerto despite a rather hollow tone from the Steinway D.
Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester, photo courtesy of the artists
Knut Vaage’s Chatter, originally commissioned by the Bergen Philharmonic as an encore piece, was programmed before the Grieg concerto. This brief, complex work depicts the busyness of modern life, with instruments chattering individually without listening or recognizing what the others are doing. These works were book-ended by Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Symphony No. 5, both works that required a larger, wetter space to allow the full power of the orchestra to blend, and blemishes be better hidden. The exquisite wind solos and generous amount of bass drum were most enjoyable.
Allan Kozinn, A Norwegian Orchestra and Its Aural Thumbprint (New York Times, November 8)
Mark J. Estren, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (Washington Post, November 6)
The Bergen Philharmonic's U.S. tour continues through November 19, with concerts in Connecticut, New York, Florida, and North Carolina.