sat 18/11/2017

Wallfisch, LPO, Vänskä, RFH | reviews, news & interviews

Wallfisch, LPO, Vänskä, RFH

Wallfisch, LPO, Vänskä, RFH

Sibelius' Fourth Symphony nears spare perfection in a mixed evening

Osmo Vänskä: first call for SibeliusKaapo Kamu

Osmo Vänskä isn't by any means the only Finn who conducts magnificent Sibelius. Sakari Oramo is the BBC Symphony Orchestra's property, but the London Philharmonic could have gone for a change and invited Vänskä's equally impressive and even more experienced successor at the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Okko Kamu. Still, they played safe by repeating their success with this combination in 2010, adding British string concertos, and why not? "Vänskä's Sibelius" is a brand that guarantees full houses like last night's, and nobody conducts the Fourth Symphony like he does.

That was the high point of last night's third instalment in the latest cycle, and it must have seemed like a good idea on paper to follow the four dark-hued movements of Elgar's Cello Concerto with an even blacker and more minimally-scored work in another minor key. In practice, too much of a sombre thing, surely, and hard to plunge into Elgar's later world at the start of a concert.Rafael WallfischYet in any case this was a routine performance, Raphael Wallfisch (pictured above by Benjamin Ealovega) giving some nice inflections but only finding the inwardness in the very final reminiscences. Otherwise, both soloist and orchestra gave us all matt-grey surface and no silvery interior. Vänskä, though always a precise concerto partner, didn't urge violas to float the first theme, and it stayed flat from Wallfisch: a struggle in the mud rather than a flight over dark earth.

Orchestral introspection was not a strong point, either; it doesn't sound as if Vänskä will follow in Oramo's footsteps with the Elgar symphonies. The Sibelius masterpieces are his for life, though. Connected to the Elgar by virtue of its opening growl from the depths, this Fourth Symphony suggested mysterious perspectives from the start, principal cellist Kristina Blaumane (pictured below by Janis Deinats) conveying more atmosphere in her painful opening arc of sound de profundis than Wallfisch found in most of the concerto.

Kristina BlaumaneJoining her in mobililty was new LPO flautist Juliet Bausor, outstanding among a top team of woodwind players, tearing at the soul in a desolate third movement where Vänskä has the licence to take Il tempo Largo slower than just about any other conductor. And it was a relief to find him not grinding to a halt at the end of the symphony when the spectre swallows up the feast at quite a lick; the final chords (unequivocally A minor, of course, not major according to the programme note) were perfectly mezzo forte, paradoxically both unemphatic and absolute.

Vänskä can still startle in the Fifth Symphony, and I wonder if he's found new markings or the interim version which exists between the startlingly different four-movement original of 1915 and the more fluid revised masterpiece we know and love. Cellos hit the strings with their hands in a deliciously flexible central intermezzo, and in the pianissimo buzzing which returns the finale to its starting point, only the first violins could be heard; was the support there and just inaudible?

Otherwise, a bit too much definition and hard-hitting means that the cloudburst at the climax of the first movement still doesn't feel quite natural, though better than when Vänskä conducted the work with the LPO last time round (Edward Seckerson admired it more then than I did), and there were just a few smudges in between the moments of supreme control. Opinions divide over Vänskä's interpretations of the Sixth and Seventh, to be heard in the final concert of the series on Friday; but then the bigger summons comes from Semyon Bychkov with the BBC Symphony Orchestra over at the Barbican, another master of the dark and earthy in the blackest symphony of them all, Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique".

Both soloist and orchestra gave us all matt-grey surface and no silvery interior

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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