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Sibelius and Tchaikovsky: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert Blomstedt (cond), Oslo Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway,23.9. 2005 (GF)



Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op 74 (Pathétique)



A concert with Herbert Blomstedt is always an event and expectations were high when he returned to the Oslo Philharmonic for two concerts. Last time he visited the orchestra, whose principal conductor he was from 1962 – 1968, was in 2002. Then he conducted Mozart and Richard Strauss, this time he had chosen Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.

As a Sibelius interpreter he is a well-known quantity and he didn’t disappoint. The sixth symphony is probably the least often played but as performed here it could claim to be the finest of them all. From the glittering strings at the very beginning, so beautifully homogenous in sound, to the magic end of the symphony Blomstedt unfolded page after page so translucently, exposing all the felicities of Sibelius’ masterly instrumentation – masterly in a very restrained way. Not for him the glaring colours of a Richard Strauss, but rather as the programme annotator put it: “It has been said that where others would have offered a cocktail of several nuances, Sibelius offers clear spring water.”

The Oslo Philharmonic, today in the first flight among the world’s great ensembles, served Blomstedt and Sibelius admirably. I’ve already mentioned the strings, positioned with the violins divided, the cellos in the centre and the double basses to the far left, but the woodwind, so important in this symphony, were ideally balanced and the open and very clean acoustics allowed every little nuance to be heard. This symphony, although nominally in D minor, is still a light and airy work and rarely do we find Sibelius in a more jolly mood than when he dances like a Fred Astaire in the second movement, something that Blomstedt also brought out.

Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” is of course anything but jolly, although the second movement, marked Allegro con grazia nods to his balletic output with its limping but elegant pulse of 5/4. Blomstedt, always the objective interpreter, skilfully avoided the obvious pitfalls: over-sentimentalizing the elegiac side of the symphony, i.e. the outer movements, or over-heating the bombasms. He steered a middle course, resulting in an ideally balanced reading, noble and, as in the Sibelius, sculpturing the ebb and flow of the music, making it very much alive. And he didn’t underplay the dramatic outbursts, where the Oslo brass section had a field day. The third movement was impressive indeed, but where audiences more often than not burst out in applause after it, the Oslo public was disciplined and saved their strength until after the deeply felt finale. Interestingly, this was a rare occasion when both symphonies ended softly.

The response after the final chord was overwhelming, there were standing ovations and after several calls Blomstedt, the humble servant of music, finally stepped down from the podium, joining the audience in their applause of the orchestra.

This evening was a musical meeting on the highest possible level, further enhanced by the extremely mild late-summer winds that met the visitor when leaving the concert hall, this day when Oslo and Norway celebrated the 100th anniversary of the definitive breaking up of the union with Sweden. The hostile feelings then were wonderfully compensated in the concert hall by the happy cooperation between the Norwegian orchestra and the Swedish conductor.



Göran Forsling





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)