Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Stockholm Konserthus, Sweden

Whatever the Gothenburg Symphony and Santtu-Matias Rouvali can do – I am grateful to Ateş Orga for covering their recent broadcasts (please see Concert Reviews) – the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (Sakari Oramo, chief conductor) can match them: Sweden is doing well for us, here presented by Stefan Forsberg in Swedish and (sometimes) English. This was a pristine free-to-the-World relay of live music-making – no audience present of course – with the RSPO’s conductor laureate Alan Gilbert.

He opened with Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, a languorous, fluid and sensitive account launched by silver-fine flute-playing – woodwind contributions were distinguished throughout, so too solo violin and horn – and visually enhanced by being played in a darkened auditorium, if not enough to disguise that maybe Swedish authorities’ Covid-19 guidelines on Social Distancing are more relaxed than in some other countries.

The other ‘bookend’ was Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony (No.8 or No.7 depending on your territory), a reading that in the first movement (with exposition repeated) had flow and enough moderato to match the composer’s marking, Gilbert balancing private and public emotions with surety, as well as cries from the heart (development, coda), and ensuring that the concluding movement (not Schubert’s intention), if maybe with too much of a forward current even for Andante con moto, wasn’t about Last Rites – the music’s recesses were though rendered as confidential and fortissimos, fortified by trombones, blazed – and that there should have been more to come from the composer’s pen. (There are though a few four-movement completions by others.)

Nina Stemme is a distinguished Isolde of course and Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder are sometimes referred to as a study for his music-drama (add Tristan). As this concert’s centrepiece, and heard here in Felix Mottl’s orchestration (of the first four songs, Wagner himself scoring the fifth, ‘Träume’) – if smaller forces had been required for this cycle, Hans Werner Henze would have provided – Stemme, standing centrally within the Stockholm Philharmonic and beautifully balanced in audio terms, was suitably intense and gave us vivid word-painting; a fine mix, as required, of Lieder-intimacy and operatic projection, with a tailor-made accompaniment to complement her.