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Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

THE Bergen Philharmonic is a wonderful orchestra.

I will invoke no extravagant comparisons with the world's great orchestras: I speak of the Bergen Philharmonic in its own right. In recent months we have been charting their rise through CD reviews and Saturday columns. On the last night of January they gave their debut performance at the Usher Hall; and they did not disappoint.

With music director Andrew Litton in charge they gave a climactic and deeply impressive performance of Strauss's Ein Heldenleben as the final work in their first (but surely not their only) appearance in Edinburgh – the festival must be alerted to this lot, if they don't know about them already.

It was a phenomenal psychological portrayal of the work. It eschewed bombast. It was free of glitz and flash: some conductors like to point up certain features – blowing up the portrait of the Hero, lambasting critics with overstated woodwind playing, over-glamorising the love music and introducing heavy artillery into the battle music. Litton and the Bergen Phil's clean, unflashy playing had honesty in its interpretation and delivery, avoiding overstatement throughout, giving a sound, well-balanced, well-structured, deeply impressive and moving account of Heldenleben.

And their electric opening performance, of Delius's little-played Straussian early poem, On the Mountains, was, as I remarked cruelly to a former RSNO horn player, the only bit of Delius I have heard that sounded like real music.

The only disappointing element was the featherweight playing of Grieg's Piano Concerto by Christian Ihle Hadland, which lacked pianistic power and projection. The Bergen Phil is a great band: let's get them back here.

HHHH

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