Letter from Sibelius to VW dated August 22, 1952

Thursday, November 24, 2022

City Halls, Glasgow

The elemental Tapiola (Tapio, forest god), 1926, and the mostly serene if transporting Fifth Symphony made for a telling contrast, Vaughan Williams dedicating the Fifth to his Finnish peer “without permission” (although it was soon granted). Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish, conductor and orchestra as-one, illuminated with unvarnished intensity the inhospitable terrain that Sibelius conjures so starkly, Nature icy and raw, forces that Man has no control over gaining supremacy as the performers slow-burned their way to an inevitable/harsh climax (long-term interpretative thinking to the fore) en route to which had been details not always apparent.

As for the Vaughan Williams, 1943, which Brabbins has recorded for Hyperion as part of his now-nearly-complete Symphony Cycle (Numbers Seven & Nine are awaiting release), ideally this should have been my second VW5 of the week, for last night Leonard Slatkin conducted it in Tokyo with the NHK Symphony Orchestra – a friend in Suntory Hall said it was “wonderful” – a concert that NHK broadcast live, albeit such relays are only available to those in Japan, as I also found out recently with Herbert Blomstedt’s Mahler Nine: http://www.colinscolumn.com/the-finale-of-mahlers-ninth-symphony-herbert-blomstedt-conducts-the-nhkso-tokyo-2010/). Brabbins led a consummate account, also wonderful, of a Symphony that shares musically with the then-unfinished “Morality” The Pilgrim’s Progress (the composer believing it would remain uncompleted, although he did win through for a Covent Garden staging next decade), a score that consoles and opens up vistas of hope (written at the height of World War II) – rapt and majestic, sacred rather than pastoral – perhaps echoing Sibelius’s sprites in the second-movement Scherzo, the whole work benefitting from Brabbins’s masterly transitions, elegant rhythms, organic progressions to the outer movements’ Heaven-reaching peaks, and eloquent phrasing: the third-movement ‘Romanza’ especially soulful, a nocturnal affair of the heart, poetic woodwinds, and such inward string-playing, similarly at the work’s benedictory close. (Rather different to a week ago and Shostakovich’s filmic Eleventh Symphony: http://www.colinscolumn.com/royal-college-of-music-symphony-orchestra-martyn-brabbins-conducts-judith-weirs-heroic-strokes-of-the-bow-daniel-hogan-conducts-the-premiere-of/.)

In between these symphonic masterworks, Elizabeth Llewellyn essayed Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, 1948, a flowing, unsentimental rendition that one imagines – based on Strauss’s recordings of his own and others’ music – the composer would have been delighted with, the soprano’s unsentimental expression/unforced soaring and the conductor’s clarity of texture, singer and orchestra in just balance, with fine horn (Christopher Gough) and (Laura Samuel) violin solos, the third setting, of Hesse’s ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ (Upon Going to Sleep), perhaps the standout (and the greatest of these Lieder), with the final number (to Eichendorff’s sunset words) a dignified if poignant farewell, and likewise carrying over the airwaves with compelling communication.

This concert of music by three contemporaneous and long-lived composers proved to be a classy affair.


RELEASED TODAY, October 30: Martyn Brabbins & BBCSO record Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony and Pilgrim’s Progress for Hyperion.

RELEASED TODAY, October 7: Martyn Brabbins & the BBC Symphony Orchestra record Vaughan Williams’s Sixth & Eighth Symphonies for Hyperion.