Friday, January 22, 2021

Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris

The respective if very-different Sixth Symphonies of Sibelius – which he likened to “cold water” – and Tchaikovsky – his impassioned/prophetic farewell to life – found themselves bookending the French premiere of Bryce Dessner’s fifteen-minute Wires with the composer as soloist on electric guitar – filmic-minimalist (I suppose); quite a lot going on (rhythms, sound, quick-change styles) but with little-to-nothing to impart beyond its own effects.

The Sibelius, chaste and serene, enigmatic, on one level, deep-seated emotionalism on another, if realised in the purest of terms – contrapuntally immaculate: Palestrina in Finland – found Santtu-Matias Rouvali contemplating the music’s loveliness and inner workings, alive to detail and clockwork rhythmic impetus, revealed through measured tempos, the close and bright audio contrasting with the restrained and moody lighting. Suspense was not in short supply although there was a certain squareness to the music-making, most noticeable during the middle movements. Well-prepared though and played as if Sibelius isn’t the stranger in Paris that he is quite often reported as being. Staying in the mind are the expressive introductions to the outer movements and the wistful ultimate coda, the latter distilled with poignancy.

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ Symphony ended this without-audience evening (those musicians who were able to play while wearing masks suitably adorned) in a reliable reading, embers more than flames at times in the first movement, a non-interventionist approach that made the occasional phrasal and dynamic tweak all the more noticeable – a performance at one-remove from turmoil yet suave in the second movement, elegantly turned, and then a swift yet florid third marching to an emphatic left-right conclusion via a slight drop in tempo (if nowhere near the half-speed braking favoured by such as Fricsay, Erich Kleiber and Martinon). Within a couple of seconds, the slow Finale (anticipating Mahler 9, another Last Word), flowing, unsentimental – a soupcon of unsolicited percussion aside, a dignified approach that saw the Symphony through to its nothingness conclusion.

Available to watch until 22:59 on July 22