Friday, March 24, 2023

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

Kazuki Yamada (Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s successor at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) opened with Toru Takemitsu’s Aboriginal- and dance-inspired Dreamtime (1981), fifteen minutes of slowly shifting sounds fastidiously notated – ethereal, voluptuous, enchantedly expressive, suggestive of a faraway place beyond Planet Earth and transcending everyday consciousness, a large orchestra used for subtle variegation, including occasional crescendos, fortissimos and quickening, to avoid aimlessness, and with the spirit of Debussy delicately woven into the mix, all realised here with much sensitivity regarding colours and interactions, .

Henri Dutilleux was also fastidious. His relatively early First Symphony (1951, he was then in his mid-thirties) had its premiere in Paris conducted by Roger Désormière. It’s a four-movement affair (Passacaglia-Scherzo-Intermezzo-Variations) that acknowledges traditional genres and forms, yet the end result contradicts any anticipations of convention, for there is a jazziness to the first movement, a playfulness, eloquence, and rhythmic panache that is infectious, as well as dissolving to bewitching locations before the spectral Scherzo scurries along brimming with mercurial incident (such as piano and celesta being twinned, there’s a harp too), sure of its direction. The ‘Intermezzo’ is freely lyrical and darkly amorous if secretive, and this impressive half-hour score is rounded by the grandly introduced ‘Variations’, a commanding Finale in which variances do not cloud the bigger picture, an unambiguous destiny, slow and hushed, passions spent. Superb performance.

In between, Lise de la Salle gave a powerful, sparkling and thoughtful account of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto (in its final version), a rendition of romantic ardour and phrasal flexibility, fingers unfailingly nimble, with plenty of attack when required, not least in the first-movement cadenza, the pianist not afraid of rhetoric. The slow movement was spacious and gentle, de la Salle giving the impression that she was extemporising, and the Finale zoomed along, if never too fast to compromise clarity and detail, contrasted with passages of poetic reminiscence, before the exciting dash to the finishing post, Yamada and the FRSO as willing and vibrant partners throughout. Her encore was welcome, Schubert’s An die Musik, presumably in Liszt’s transcription, essayed by de la Salle as if alone at home; indeed, she announced that she was dedicating the song to “my young daughter”.

Berliner Philharmoniker – Alan Gilbert conducts Boris Blacher and Henri Dutilleux, with Joshua Bell playing Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Live Digital Concert Hall webcast.