Review: BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Town Hall

Saturday 8th February 2020

THE world premiere of Edwards Gregson’s Oboe Concerto supported by two pillars of the romantic repertoire formed this programme led by Ben Gernon, the BBC Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor since 2017. The Essex born thirty year-old is one of the youngest musicians to hold such an appointment with a BBC orchestra.

The lush tonality of Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet opened the evening. In Gernon’s expressive hands the romantic scenes were beautifully shaped and bathed in the glow of the BBC Phil’s strings, woodwind and brass. Gernon’s propulsion of themes depicting the battling Montagues and Capulets was gripping in its intensity. An achingly grief laden finale climaxed in the six final cataclysmic chords over thunderous drum rolls.

Edward Gregson’s Oboe Concerto is titled A Vision in a Dream, after Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem Kubla Khan. The concerto is bursting with ideas expressed in music ranging from rhythmic and vibrant to melodic and lyrical. The solo oboe as narrator and character portrayer, was beautifully played by Jennifer Galloway. Her dialogues with a solo percussionist and a serene cor anglais represented the impulsive nature and the calmer side of Kubla Khan. These sections provided the more insightful moments of a hyperactive musical score.

Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique was largely the product of the young composer’s love for Irish actress Harriet Smithson. An orchestra similar to Beethoven’s is enlarged by two each of bassoons, cornets, tubas, harps, and bells. Ben Gernon’s realisation of Berlioz’s kaleidoscopic spectrum of colours etched by the BBC Philharmonic was jawdropping. The sheer energy and joy of Gernon’s music making connected with both orchestra and audience.

Geoffrey Mogridge