BPO – Sea Songs – Ragnhild Hemsing (Hardanger fiddle), Joanna MacGregor (piano), Adam Hickox (conductor)

Sea Songs but no singing? – never mind, this delightful concert had a distinctly marine flavour. Benjamin Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes’ are wonderful musical poems that capture perfectly the changing temperaments of the Suffolk coast. Adam Hickox gave ample space to the slow opening movement, gently unveiling the morning chill, gulls calling and a wide horizon, all with a sense of foreboding. He then perked up with the bustle and gossip of Aldeburgh folk on their way to church or chapel and the frantic fall of the lad down the rain-sodden cliff. The third interlude, ‘Moonlight’ was calm, damp and grim, preparing us for the vigour of the devastating storm sequence. The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra responded heroically to all the complex challenges of this evocative work. It’s a very hard act to follow.

Adam Hickox

Adam Hickox

Geirr Tveitt’s Concerto no. 2 ‘Three Fjords’ employs Norway’s national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle, to describe three different seascapes. I found the finale Nordfjord: Giocoso the most successful. The orchestra was very much just a backing group as the soloist’s fiddle was electronically amplified, so the balance sounded wrong. I am told we wouldn’t have heard the special effects of those resonating sympathetic strings without this extra amplification because the fiddle would not have filled the hall – perhaps. The performance demonstrated virtuoso prowess but for me it failed to convey any proper dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. She was just too loud. The two enjoyable solo encores had the audience and many of the orchestra stamping in time.

After the break, the Music Director Joanna MacGregor led the BPO from the piano in three lovely short works by Ryuichi Sakamoto: Still Life; Bibo non Aozora; and Happy End. Incidentally, this demonstrated how even a very quiet soloist can be heard within the full orchestral sound. The abrupt ending of Happy End was charming.

Joanna MacGregor

While the piano was being removed Joanna MacGregor and Adam Hickox chatted informally about the final item, Debussy’s ‘La Mer’. It’s always interesting to hear the conductor’s ideas about familiar works and get hints on what to listen for. It also makes the afternoon feel more like a music club. So, with Debussy’s sea-inspired symphonic sketches the orchestra was on top form, their elegant, precise conductor bringing the 2023-24 season to a splendid climax.

It was good to see so many youngsters in the orchestra and school children in the audience, enjoying the music and the sense of occasion.

Dome Concert Hall,
7 April 2024


Andrew Connal

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