Wednesday, April 26, 2023

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

A few nights ago in Helsinki it was one mighty work,, which may have had some interpretative glitches yet will stay in the memory as a monumental and impressive traversal; and, now, a programme of roughly contemporaneous masterpieces from the early part of the twentieth-century.

The modern trend of going straight into a Concerto was unfortunately followed – so many short pieces abandoned in the process – with Boris Giltburg playing something he’s recently recorded, Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto (1926/41),, given in its second revision. This was a surging performance, the first movement opening energetically and, importantly, with plenty of woodwind detail – the piano relayed with a concert-hall balance – and also with poetic lyricism, the whole first movement given with ardour. The slow one was intimate and dark, and the Finale was propelled with surety and eased into nostalgic phrases naturally. The closing bars scintillated and we were reminded throughout of Rachmaninov’s sophisticated scoring and how integral it is to the success of this great – concentrated – piece. For an encore Giltburg offered the Prelude in C-sharp minor (Opus 3/2), passionate rather than rhetorical.

Following the interval, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (1930), carrying the dedication as illustrated above, destined for Boston and Koussevitzky, yet the premiere (December 13) took place in Brussels, Ansermet conducting, if reaching Massachusetts six days later. For chorus (Helsinki Music Centre Choir prepared by Eleriin Müüripeal) and an orchestra without violins, violas and clarinets but with two pianos, this is austerely beautiful music, angularly expressive, the final setting (Psalm 150) bringing something more otherworldly as well as quick-paced eruptions. This rendition avoided smoothness and showiness, the singers not always pitching accurately if suitably faithful, and with some notable woodwind contributions.

Bartók’s score for The Miraculous Mandarin (completed in 1924, the storyline inviting censorship) ended the evening, in Suite form. Nicholas Collon led an account less graphic than some, a little too respectable if with clarinet-led seduction a highlight. Something more sinister and sleazy was needed if well-prepared in terms of detail and dynamics with the (as far as the Suite is concerned) concluding chase music speedy and exciting.