Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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

Following sacred goings-on for Good Friday,, Nicholas Collon and the Finnish Radio SO continued their adventurousness with this attractive unhackneyed programme.

Outi Tarkiainen’s twelve-minute Songs of the Ice does not involve a vocal element. She writes: “In the Arctic region, the ice breathes with the seasons, swelling in winter and shrinking in summer. Its age-old movement sings a song of its own: slowly surging, unrelenting and covering all beneath it.” Scored for large orchestra, this is powerful, elemental music at first, which soon asserts lyrical woodwinds against an inhospitable backdrop, a frozen wasteland – increasing and diminishing – the colours bright if icy against dark subterranean swaying, climaxes building with menace perhaps then yielding to the lonely sounds of sea-creatures trapped in freezing conditions: this painterly piece holds the attention.

Ligeti’s whimsical Hamburg Concerto requires the soloist to play on a French horn and also a natural one, with the multifaceted ensemble including a quartet of the latter, for music that demands perfect pitching, enjoys echo effects, tweets rhythmic patterns (akin to acoustic instruments masquerading as an electronic soundtrack), dancing as if Baroque figurations have become dislocated, and involves long-held chord sequences distinguished by dynamic variance. No movement is long enough to be developed, so each is a cameo, and was (more or less) securely played by Jukka Harju and, just as importantly, the orchestra. If Harju needed to prove his mastery of his French apparatus, he did so in the mellifluous encore with playing of rich tone and poised phrasing.

Lilja Haatainen, born in 2011, so not yet a teenager, essayed three of Sibelius’s six Humoresques (numbers 1, 2 & 4) and did so with considerable confidence, lovely timbre, a patrician sense of phrase and spot-on intonation, with nothing to suggest that she had learnt these gems by rote; indeed her facial expressions and her eyes told of a very real understanding of the music. Her encore was by Wieniawski, a duet with the concertmaster; he was good, she had more notes, and bounced her bow with charisma. Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony closed the concert, an expansive account, concentrated and mostly connected (although the scherzo-like material was out of alignment in its fleetness) if not as craggy as this great work can take. Charles Munch’s conducting of it (see below) suggested to Rob Cowan that the music is “tall, scowling and unshaven but defiant to the end”. Come the close, Collon had found a sentimental aspect that further weakened the whole.

Charles Munch (1891-1968) conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in two Symphonies: Sibelius 7 & Vaughan Williams 8 .