Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Concert Hall, Helsinki Music Centre, Mannerheimintie 13 A, 00100 Helsinki, Finland

The GB is George Benjamin and this was the first of four programmes (the composer conducting two of them, with the other being of chamber music), celebrating Benjamin’s output and his musical sympathies, including Knussen, Ligeti and Messiaen, also the two composers included in this opener, if no Sibelius, whose oeuvre Benjamin admires greatly and speaks enthusiastically about, especially the later Symphonies and Tapiola.

Nicholas Collon got the series underway with Debussy’s Nocturnes (‘Nuages’-‘Fêtes’-‘Sirènes’). The ‘Clouds’ wandered lonely, gently and subtly, with ravishing woodwinds; ‘Festivals’ was measured, articulate, the middle section well-judged in terms of perspective, from faraway processional to foreground carnival; and ‘Sirens’, with in-tune female voices (not always the case), depicted the alluring if dangerous troupe – sailors beware – which ebbed and flowed hypnotically if mysteriously, ppp dynamics effective. To close the evening, Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, suitably secluded in the first minutes and unequivocally destination-arrived-at in the final few; in between a powerful and thrilling thrust, a palpable nostalgia, and a momentous transition.

With Sir George present in the audience, Collon conducted two of his scores. Dream of the Song (also with women’s chorus) is an active and dramatic work contrasted with rapt contemplation: operatic one moment, Lied the next, burrowing into the chosen texts with much expressiveness, inwardly disclosing or overtly emotional, orchestrated with refinement, and which found Iestyn Davies in top form. Of similar length, just shy of twenty minutes, the more-recent Concerto for Orchestra, intense and quick-change as befits music that spotlights various hierarchies and instruments within them, inventive in design and content if intriguingly enigmatic. Fine performances.

Nicholas Collon, conductor
Iestyn Davies, countertenor
Singers from the Helsinki Chamber and Helsinki Music Centre choirs

Claude Debussy: Nocturnes
George Benjamin: Dream of the Song
George Benjamin: Concerto for Orchestra
Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung Op. 24

***Recommended: Benjamin’s opera, Picture a day like this***