Friday, April 23, 2021

Tampere Hall, Yliopistonkatu 55, 33101 Tampere, Finland

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s home-base orchestra in Finland is the Tampere Philharmonic, where he’s been chief conductor since 2013, succeeding Hannu Lintu and John Storgårds. Founded in 1930, it’s a sizeable band (around a hundred musicians) with individual strengths. Its resident hall, inaugurated in 1990, is the largest of the Nordic countries, with a seating capacity in the main auditorium of nearly two-thousand. Currently all public events are cancelled or postponed, with physical distancing, testing and masks in place for webcasts such as this.

The solo skills of the principals largely shone through Stravinsky’s eight-movement Pulcinella Suite (1947 version), Rouvali’s combination of fluid melodic lines and tightly deliberated tuttis contributing to a distinctive Russo-Latin canvas. The pointed detail and rhythmic elan of this music, its refinements of texture, articulation and timbre, is a happy hunting ground for him. He likes costuming Stravinsky’s characters in dark tones, rays of unexpected light, and scurrying contrasts of heavy-footed dance step, bright Baroque pastiche, and stabbing chordal punctuation. Not all intricacies of ensemble were tidy in the brisker paragraphs, some players needing possibly greater familiarity with the notes and style, but at best the spirit felt right and involving, the performance working towards a gritty high.

Commemorating the deaths of friends lost during the First World War, Ravel’s 1919 orchestration of his Le tombeau de Couperin struck a coolish note at first, Rouvali’s energy a touch breathless and matter-of-fact at the expense of precision. But cumulatively there was virtuoso woodwind-playing to compensate – you need gifted instrumentalists to bring this piece off. As well as some miraculous finishes, that of the ‘Prélude’ vaporising into a wonderfully Debussian nothingness. The ‘Forlane’ went with a natural swing, similarly the one-in-a-bar ‘Menuet’. Closing a decisively weighted Rigaudon, the strings’ triple-stops brought a sonorously voiced luminescence to the landscape – a hope perhaps for better things beyond?

Three works climaxing in C-major aside, odd man out was Beethoven’s Third Leonore Overture. It had its independent moments, a touch of clarinet ornamentation in the introduction, dramatised tempo hold-backs, some big gestures. Yet not everything was quite together. The more it progressed the less sure-footed it seemed to become. Lacklustre crossed my mind once or twice. Rouvali’s Beethoven, we know from his Gothenburg outings, is unpredictable, in some ways grounded classically, in other respects work in progress venturing ideas with no guarantees promised. A driven Fifth Symphony he did with this orchestra last September was one of those occasions when event and experiment, sonic surprise, gelled high on the Richter Scale, certainly theatrically, the pulling up of the first two bars of the Finale marcia proving a licence and catharsis I could both believe in and listen to thrice ( One thing that performance showed was that acoustically the Tampere Hall, conveyed through microphones, is a bass-emphatic ‘wet’ space. Another was that there was an audience. Those same booming, roaring battle drums were back for this Leonore. But not the public. Empty chairs rarely make for gripping chemistry. People are needed. Social interaction. Response. Applause.