Friday, April 21, 2023

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

Tugan Sokhiev was reluctant to start this far-reaching Symphony (in its revision) – I think he was waiting for the audience to settle completely – and when the work did get underway it was with a minimal gesture cueing unanimous ensemble. Noting Bruckner’s moderato marking, Sokhiev unfolded the first movement spaciously and sonorously, with much expression, private contemplation, public passion, patiently building via moulded phrases to an intense climax, following which the clock stopped, Sokhiev now keeping strict tempo knowing a ritardando is not necessary on the final bar. The Scherzo, again measured, purred along, with no lack of locomotion yet time to shape figuration, for horns to call majestically, brassy articulations, and strings to bristle, yet the Trio was over-leisurely (surprisingly somnambulant in fact if divertingly different) and not really belonging to its surrounds, Bruckner getting two of his requested three harps. With the great Adagio the performers sought spiritual solace, glowingly, Sokhiev distilling the music’s Holy Grail potential at the slowest of paces, as if awed by the magnificent interior of the grandest cathedral, yet not static, although he unfortunately opted for Leopold Nowak’s edition, which means a jarring composer-sanctioned cut (ignored by Nowak’s predecessor Robert Haas) on the way to the climax, following which numerous dulcet tones spoke of satisfaction after an almighty event. (Close on half-an-hour is certainly time-taken for Nowak’s text, Szell on his Cleveland/CBS recording being comparable.) Deliberation also informed the Finale, Sokhiev unafraid to risk structural looseness to ensure each episode received full value, and he gave brass and timpani their heads as part of a majestic processional; yet, the Trio aside, this wasn’t an indulgent reading, and was often spellbinding, the vast ultimate coda in-keeping with what had been started ninety-four minutes earlier, the audience’s response of a few seconds of silence more telling than a reckless shout of “bravo”. Those few reservations were all outweighed by so much that compelled.