Leeds Town Hall
23rd January 2010
The increasingly renowned BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra brought an evening of Romantic contrasts to Leeds Town Hall with a programme of Wagner’s symphonic poem Siegfried Idyll, followed by the epic Symphony no. 8 by Anton Bruckner.
The former was played by the same small arrangement of thirteen instruments that so infamously first performed the piece on the steps of Wagner’s villa for his wife, Cosima, on her birthday. It’s most often played as an arrangement for full orchestra these days, so this chance to hear the piece in its originally intended form was a treat in itself.
The performance was nothing short of exquisite: a lesson in poise and grace that exploited every last modicum of loveliness to its full potential in this, Wagner’s swelling love song to his young family. The small ensemble showed a remarkable mastery of dynamics, painting piano in an impressive array of shades from quiet bravado all the way through to an almost unbearably delicate hush. An extraordinary, reverential performance of a very emotive piece of music.
Bruckner’s 8th requires an orchestral arrangement which seems obscene by comparison to the Wagner ensemble. Triple woodwind, triple brass, eight horns, triple harp, timpani, cymbals, triangle and strings. The visual contrast on stage after the interval is only outdone by the sonic contrast when the brass and timpani come in with full voice. These insistent fanfare-like rhythms form the most striking sections of the first movement, and again are exploited to full potential by conductor Donald Runnicles’ sensitivity to dynamic nuance.
The 8th is notoriously epic (nicknamed The Apocalytpic) with flare and flourish vying for attention over a constant of introspective sombreness. It’s also striking for its fluidity of tone and rhythm, allowing for effortless but stark contrasts. The rapturous applause at its glittering close is justly deserved for this accomplished performance of a notoriously challenging piece.
The performance was recorded by the BBC and can be heard on BBC R3 on Tuesday at 7pm – if you couldn’t be there (or, indeed, if you could) it’s highly recommended listening.