Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Friday, June 05, 2020

Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden

We got the whole of Sibelius’s great if tragic Fourth Symphony, Daniel Harding even-handedly balancing the first movement’s bleakness (if not peering too profoundly into it) and its quasi adagio qualification, very spacious and well-controlled, fine solo-cello playing too …  and then Krister Henriksson read a Swedish text with gravitas (no English translation to guide though) before Ann Hallenberg stepped forward for ‘The Lonely One in Autumn’, the second movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, she concentrated and poignant, and standing a couple of metres behind the conductor – I thought, as good as the Sibelius (pictured) had been, that Harding deepened his responses for the Mahler and that this communicated to the players …  then straight into Sibelius’s second movement, flickering like a firefly if with the composer’s notated awkward gyrations and increases in intensity.

Following the second of Thomas Tranströmer’s poems, it was Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary: trumpets, trombones and military-sounding timpani started the processional, then about fifteen members of the Swedish Radio Choir, standing in the stalls area (with a chamber organ for company), continued the lament, and so these groups alternated, before the opening March returned and led indivisibly into Sibelius’s Il tempo largo third movement, Harding again taking his time, the effect being even more lonely than with Mahler, the music penned-in before erupting as if a cry of pain from underground.

Following Tranströmer #3 (short) came ‘Ebarme dich’ from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Hallenberg returning, and with a plaintive contribution from the Orchestra’s leader – all sublime – and then an attacca into Sibelius’s Finale (using the composer’s preferred glockenspiel, it seems he said this to Leslie Heward, rather than bells (Glocken in the score) – although that didn’t stop Ansermet, Bernstein, Colin Davis and Maazel, et al, using the latter for suitable coldness), which from Harding had momentum and also suggested the music feeling its way in the dark – to an anguished climax and the ‘no way out’ coda, which Harding underlined by staying in tempo … this is a Symphony that stops rather than finishes.

All of the musicians were socially distanced, with each afforded their own music stand – the orchestral bassists were four (I think, subdued lighting), left-positioned, with violins antiphonal, and the broadcast sound and camerawork were excellent. I’m not sure that fracturing Sibelius 4 like this was such a good idea, but the other music was well-chosen and made for an eighty-minute sequence that complemented, nourished and solaced.


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