Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Stockholms Konserthus, Hötorget 8, 10387 Stockholm, Sweden

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Another hall in lockdown. An audience – 1,770 – denied. Distanced players. Seeing out the current season, this Royal Stockholm Philharmonic programme juxtaposed a spring ballet and a spring symphony a hundred years apart.

Alan Gilbert, Conductor Laureate of the RSP, subsequently Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, succeeded best with the 1945 orchestral Suite from Copland’s Martha Graham ballet Appalachian Spring. Music that quintessentialises the American heartland theme though not initially, as the composer was often to remind people, a specifically Appalachian one: “I gave voice to that region without knowing I was giving voice to it.”

Creating a filmic, coloured, raw-scented panorama in the wilderness, from dawn to high noon to dusk, Gilbert took his time to unfold the old pioneer tale, securing some magnificent woodwind playing, rich washes of string tone, hymnal brass choruses, and the kind of resonantly edgy timpani attack that, in the fancy of one’s imagination, defined eternity as much as rock faces and open skies The old Shaker tune ‘Simple Gifts’ cast its inevitable magic, the closing pages breathed long, fading into the night, bride and groom “quiet and strong in their new house”, a low, soft, held C resting the world. The genius, the sound-print of Copland (pictured), was emphatic, as finely etched as a Conrad Aiken ‘nocturne’.

Gilbert’s Schumann (cellos and basses to the right) painted another kind of spring, German forest to the fore, boars before bears. This was a rugged reading of the First Symphony, its lyricism spread thinly between gruff tuttis, huntsmen and brass in rampant cry. Just occasionally there’d be a lengthened phrase, an attentive detail, body language encouraging response. But I could have done with more. The repetitive upbeat holdbacks of the Finale, not marked in the score, seemed unduly magnified, losing their initial surprise value, the grazioso element (Schumann’s post-composition “butterflies hovering in the air”?) more contrived than spontaneous. Orchestrally, a fair run-through, if a little exposed in the faster ensemble passages, the woodwind personalised and characterful, but one which was never going to aspire to the kind of coiled Spira Mirabilis tension and vibrancy this work demands. It’s a tricky piece to bring off.