Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49)

Friday, May 19, 2023

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

Ligeti’s ethereal Atmosphères was given with refinement – precisely balanced chords, dynamic swells perfectly addressed, music of stratospheric high pitches, subterranean low ones, occasional buzzing activity, with pianissimos taken to a near-inaudible presence, the closing silence representing a spellbinding corollary, following which Messiaen’s L’Ascension seemed almost rudely intrusive, if in fact meditative, static and solemn, then of haloed chorales, wonderment and flowering, followed by joyful alleluias and exotic rhythms, and finally personal communication with a deity, rapt and prayerful, strings sounding luminously to infinity. Not music I totally identify with; however, this was an exceptional performance, prepared fastidiously.

Rachmaninov’s The Bells (1913), a four-movement birth-to-death piece (via wedding bells and alarm bells) setting Poe’s eponymous poem freely translated into Russian, was equally maintained at a high level. Opening vernally and brightly-detailed – the tenor timbre-attractive and commanding, the chorus radiating light – this was an optimistic start, yet the succeeding nuptials brought emotional doubts, the soprano intensely reflecting on the ‘big day’, with melancholy. Unfortunately, the third movement (choir only) was tame in tempo and projection, anything but panic-stricken – perhaps Nicholas Collon was conducting Rachmaninov’s 1936 revision (simplification) of this section made for Henry Wood (recorded by Pletnev for DG)? Nevertheless the final movement’s mourning was conveyed expressively – although the baritone might have sported a darker intensity – and if the radiant final measures were affecting, overall this Bells proved rather lightweight, not Slavic enough.

Iwona Sobotka, soprano
Giorgi Sturua, tenor
Yuriy Yurchuk, baritone
Helsinki Music Centre Choir