Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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

A few evenings ago the Finnish Radio SO, conducted by David Robertson, played Rachmaninov’s First Symphony, With Mark Elder as the Orchestra’s latest guest, it was Rachmaninov’s Second such work, which Elder commanded with much regard, brooding yet potent during the introduction leading to a shapely and blossoming exposition (not repeated) with a rapturous second subject and into the tempestuous development, a little held-back at first although symphonic principles were being satisfied – and anyway Elder was playing the long game in terms of building the piece, so that the recapitulation came across as further development, the coda (its ultimate chord not augmented by ‘other’ instruments, thankfully) bringing something of a release … and into the festive and soaring Scherzo, the middle section athletic, poised and scrupulously contrapuntal, all thought through. The Adagio was given time and intimate romancing, led by a notable clarinet solo (the same player had rung-out a collector’s-item of a trill towards the end of the preceding movement), the music burgeoning, with some portamento along the way (typically, Elder had the violins seated antiphonally), to a heartfelt climax and dusky reminiscences. The Finale strode with purpose while avoiding the pace being forced, episodes seamlessly integrated without denuding their respective characters, and this hour-long performance ended gloriously.

Opening the concert, Sibelius. First, The Bard, ancient if timeless, gently orating harp to the fore, introspective, slow-burn, softly spoken music if with greater intensity and volume two-thirds through, realised with suitably poetic appreciation. Similarly, Night Ride and Sunrise, Sibelius at his most colourfully descriptive, and musically progressive. Elder’s marriage of clarity and direction, and his observance of dynamics and details – and punctuation – served this great if underestimated piece well, an increasingly momentous and intense nocturnal journey through a craggy and unlit landscape, played vividly, eventually brightened by the dawning of a new day, cued by a lyrical horn solo, bassoons in support, gradually joined by noble brass to signal brightness and a Heaven-sent safe arrival. During an interview, Sir Mark revealed that he has never conducted Finlandia.