Thursday, October 15, 2020

Göteborgs Konserthuset, Götaplatsen 8, Gothenburg, Sweden

The E-minor Mendelssohn was a sweet-toned and gracious affair from Elina Vähälä, poised in the first movement’s faster passages with, and including (here) the fantasia-like cadenza, lyrical slower measures lingered over with affection, the latter quality coming even more to the fore in the central Andante, intensely con amore. Enjoyable as all this was, the Finale was the highlight – by dint of a light touch as well as a moderate tempo that made for articulacy and meaningful expression, the music allowed to sing and sparkle and not reduced to a virtuosic exercise. Throughout, Santtu-Matias Rouvali sympathetically accompanied Vähälä, unearthing sometimes-buried details.

His view of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, it’s opening brassy ‘fate’ motif urgently addressed and heroically played, was less interventionist/individual than perhaps anticipated; not doing the expected can extend one’s appreciation of an artist, and those dynamics and balances that were personal only added interest to a performance that already had great music on its side.

Thus Rouvali sees Tchaikovsky 4 as foremost a Symphony rather than a series of diary entries. The opening movement, if a little histrionic in the coda – persuasively so –, ebbed and flowed within natural symphonic parameters, passions and balletic episodes enjoying good relations, fate itself retaining its introductory suddenness and glower. The songful slow movement was beautifully judged (lovely oboe-playing) – from innocence to darkness via an organically-traced climax; the pizzicato Scherzo was nimbly delineated, although the Trio found Rouvali as puppet-master, teasing speeds; whereas the Finale pressed the button marked ‘exhilarating’ without making it obvious. The festive concluding bars, including a naughty-but-nice extended timpani roll, took all before them.

The Gothenburg SO may have fielded slightly reduced strings (violins 12.10, basses six) but there was no suggestion of thinness. Sound and picture were typically excellent. No audience.