Friday, December 31, 2021

Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, Minnesota

[Original programme: “Helena Juntunen, soprano; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 7; Hertig Magnus; Luonnotar; Autumn Evening No. 1; and Symphony No. 2.”]

It was already 2022 in the UK (London six hours ahead of Minneapolis) when this livestream arrived from the Minnesota Orchestra, the start of its Sibelius Festival, although Osmo Vänskä opted to begin at the symphonic end with the concentrated Symphony 7, a broad-paced reading with noble trombone solos and vivid timpani detail as well as especially agile ‘scherzo’ material; indeed it was the contrast between dancing light-filled textures and sonorous spaciousness that made this such a striking performance, one of directional and climactic certainty, if not without emotional struggle – just as it should be.

In place of soprano Helena Juntunen (I missed the broadcast’s introduction so am assuming she was snarled by travel restrictions) – her sequence would have included the extraordinary Luonnotar – violinist Stella Chen played five of the six Humoresques (the advice was that the first is “not in the public domain” and could not be played. Really? It has not stopped others.). Somewhat thin of tone in the highest register, Chen relished the wit and expressive charm of these delightful miniatures, sympathetically accompanied, tempos well-judged, always articulate.

The Minnesota Orchestra is a seasoned Sibelius ensemble – it seems that in his nineteen seasons as music director Vänskä has included the Finn’s music nearly three-hundred times in concerts, and there is also a Symphony cycle on Bis – so it was no surprise that Symphony 2 closed this concert in such an experienced way, played superbly in response to Vänskä’s flexible and potent conducting, Kajanus-like in terms of ‘getting on with it’ (his ancient London-made recordings carry Sibelius’s imprimatur), maybe too much so in the first movement, and perhaps too volatile in the second through extremes of tempo if with no lack of passion. (Unfortunately, the clapping that greeted the first four Humoresques also continued into the Symphony.) The Scherzo went like the wind, the Trio languorous (lovely oboe solo) and the transition into the Finale was momentous, the movement itself a poised ardour-filled and sure-footed journey to blazing and broadened triumph. Good sound and picture on, and the final Minneapolis evening of 2021 played out to a poignant rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

And let’s not forget Sibelius’s Symphony-composer antithesis, Mahler, and this team’s great recording of the Tenth,, something very special.