Friday, February 10, 2023

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

Rachmaninov One was assigned to David Robertson,, the Second to Mark Elder, Nicholas Collon,, grabbed the Third (and he has The Bells later in the season).

Collon’s conducting of Symphony Three (probably my Desert Island Rachmaninov, although I’d miss the Fourth Piano Concerto) didn’t always hit the spot – a few degrees of power, passion and nostalgia were missing, and there were moments when the players seemed a trifle unfamiliar with the demands of the piece – it is superbly orchestrated in the most virtuosic way – although for the most part it was done well (first-movement repeat observed) yet a certain coolness and objectivity slightly diminished the music’s ability to project the most fervent and inner sentiments of this special opus. The slow movement with its swift middle section fared best, and the Finale’s measured tempo was ideal, fugue and reminiscing episodes made to belong. By now the emotional enveloping hoped for in this work was more apparent and the coda went to the edge, unstopping, demonic.

Outi Tarkiainen’s iridescent ten-minute Midnight Sun Variations opened the concert showcasing her command of a large orchestra, music of a starry night, suggestive of song from still-awake birds, and also of momentous events (a seismic climax), yearning emotions, multi-coloured and ear-tickling, if not especially melodic until it seems that Sibelius’s Tapiola is consciously recalled – and then attention turns to him and away from this particular successor.

Nevertheless Midnight Sun made a complementary upbeat to György Ligeti’s five-movement Violin Concerto, which then upstaged it – music that is wacky, witty, spectral, unpredictable, complex yet direct, Baroque yet contemporary, expressive if not obviously so, flights of fancy residing with the simplest of means if also presenting conundrums, and if the scoring is conventional – excepting the use of ancient ocarinas – what is said through the music is anything but while being wholly characteristic. Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays Ligeti’s Concerto regularly with devotion, finesse and intense attack (the latter sometimes a shock) culminating with a dramatic, gamut-running, Finale – maybe the cadenza was Thomas Adès’s although it became more and more surreal, enough for it to be a safe bet that it might be by the soloist. A surreal (and short) encore from her, too, by a Venezuelan composer who now only writes for electronics. In the Ligeti, Collon and FRSO offered a detailed, charismatic and focussed partnership to ‘PatKop’ – the trombonist was a standout during the final movement.