Review: BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 26th October 2019

LONDON born composer Anna Clyne’s ten minutes-long work, Masquerade, resourcefully deploys a huge orchestra to conjure up a street party atmosphere of masked guises and dances illuminated by brilliant bursts of fireworks. Broad sweeping themes more redolent of a Hollywood movie are ingeniously spliced into the kaleidoscopic musical canvas. The energised shaping of textures by Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro, at the helm of the ninety-piece BBC Philharmonic, pointed up the colours of this engaging miniature.

Scaled down forces for Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor afforded some respite from dense orchestration before the evening’s main course, Mahler’s epic Fifth Symphony. Laura van der Heijden, winner of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, was the deeply expressive soloist. Saint-Saens’ extremely challenging demands on the soloist have made this sunny concerto a favourite of virtuosi including Casals, Rostropovich, Tortelier and Jacqueline Du Pre. Laura van der Heijden evidently relished the drama of the stormy opening section and the yearning, song-like central section. Her dazzling coda and the BBC Philharmonic’s felicitous accompaniment brought the concerto to a stunning conclusion.

Conductor Joana Carneiro then displayed her absolute mastery of the architecture of Gustav Mahler’s immense Symphony No 5 in C sharp minor. A defiant opening solo trumpet set the tone for the extraordinary dynamic range of the BBC Philharmonic’s luminous performance. The strings bristled with menace in Part 1 and, embellished by the harp, plumbed the sumptuous depths of the pensive Adagietto. Carneiro unleashed the full cataclysmic force of the brass chorales, not least in the incandescent climax to this great work.

Geoffrey Mogridge