German Dances at The Lighthouse

revs McGeganBournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Nicholas McGegan: Conductor
Veronika Eberle: Violin
Antoine Tamestit: Viola

BRAHMS: Liebeslieder Walzer
MOZART: Sinfonia Concertante, K364
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A major

English-born conductor Nicholas McGegan was awarded an OBE in 2010 for “services to music overseas”, and a glance at his biography shows what a globe-trotting career this ebullient and exuberant conductor has had. With musical roots going back to playing baroque flute under the legendary Christopher Hogwood in the dawn of the authentic-performance movement in the 1970s, McGegan is perhaps best known for his 30-year association with the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque. His discography reveals a wealth of experience in music of the baroque and classical periods, so when he scurried to the podium like Alice’s White Rabbit to conduct Brahms, he wasn’t necessarily in the centre of his comfort zone in terms of repertoire.

However, the performance of the nine miniatures comprising Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer was winning in every respect. McGegan is a whole-body conductor, doing without a baton and inspiring the orchestra with a never-static sequence of bobbing and weaving, with joy in the music-making radiating from his expressive face. Some of these dances evoked Johann Strauss, some the composer’s own Hungarian Dances. The orchestrations are varied and delicate, with Anna Pyne’s flute often prominent.

Next came Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, which as the title suggests inhabits the no-man’s land between the symphony and the concerto. The soloists placed themselves with each standing in front of their section of the orchestra rather than forming a duo separate from it: violinist Veronika Eberle wore unassertive black trousers rather than a flashy evening dress: the soloists enthusiastically played along with the orchestra in the exposition section rather than standing waiting their turn to display their solo skills. All this contributed to the atmosphere of joyous collaborative music making rather than virtuoso display. Eberle, the young German violinist and French violist Antoine Tamestit both played instruments made by Stradivarius, Tamestit’s remarkable 1672 viola being the oldest by eighteen years of only thirteen surviving. They certainly made gorgeous sounds, both individually and together, and the rapport between soloists, conductor and orchestra was outstanding.

After the interval McGegan’s ‘authentic performance’ pedigree was obvious in a performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony which was light-years away from the ponderous and portentous Beethoven of some mid-twentieth-century Germanic conductors. Everything danced and skipped in this most dance-influenced symphony, suffused with rhythms rather than tunes, with tempi generally brisk and a final movement that shot out of the starting blocks like Usain Bolt, keeping up the pace to the tape. Let’s hope the BSO have the stamina to repeat this exhilarating concert as energetically in Basingstoke, Exeter and Brighton.



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