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Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major “Jupiter” (1788), Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor (1909), Paavali Jumppanen (piano), The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, En Shao (conductor), Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, 20.04.2006 (GF)

The Finlandia Hall (1700 seats) was sold out weeks in advance for this concert, where the great attraction was the still fairly young (he was born in 1974) Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen. He won first prize in the Maj Lind Piano Competition when he was 20 and in 2000 he was awarded the first prize in the Young Concert Artists competition, which led to successful appearances in the US. Today, he is internationally established and last year his recording for deutsche Grammophon of Boulez’ piano sonatas was awarded both a Diapason d’Or and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.

Chinese born conductor En Shao, who has held posts with the BBC Philharmonic and the Ulster Orchestra, has been, since the 2003-04 season, artistic director of the Macao Symphony Orchestra. He turned out to be a lively presence on the rostrum and his reading of the “Jupiter” symphony was one of contrasts. The first movement was muscular with some strident string playing – or was it the acoustics? I don’t know the hall well enough, but rumour has it that the sound picture varies depending on where you are seated. Anyway, in the second movement, Andante cantabile, the strings were so soft and silken and generally En Shao chose sensible tempos. The minuet was rhythmically accentuated, making it belong more to rural surroundings than to the sophisticated state-rooms. The finale was jubilant and festive, as indeed it should, with timpani and trumpets well to the fore. This was big band Mozart, to be sure, but the “Jupiter” is also his grandest symphony.

(The programme book notes mentioned that the first Finnish performance of the work was in 1883 with the then newly formed Helsinki Philharmonic. The conductor – and founder – was the famous Robert Kajanus. He was the principal conductor for the following 50 years and during this period most of his close friend Jean Sibelius’ symphonic works were premiered by the orchestra with the composer conducting. It was also the Helsinki Philharmonic and Kajanus who gave the Finnish premiere of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Margarete Wit as soloist. This was in 1926.)

As could be expected after the Mozart, En Shao conducted a bold, romantic performance where he neither fought shy of the unabashedly sugary string melodies nor the powerful climaxes, which raised the temperature in the hall several degrees. Those who came for Jumppanen had no reason to be disappointed. The young Finn seems cool in his stage appearance but there is fire in his playing and he was extremely assured, overcoming all the technical challenges in this Everest of concertos with flying colours. He also showed impressive stamina, being on the go almost constantly during the approximately 40 minutes long work. And he impressed just as much with the many delicacies of the score, elegantly played. The rapport between soloist and conductor in the intricacies of the last movement was also visually attractive. The orchestra are also worth a bunch of flowers each – not only the concertmaster who got the conductor’s – for impassioned playing.

From my position – row 10, quite far to the left – the piano sound was rather mellow. I don’t know if it was the instrument or my sitting more or less behind the back of the pianist. This is actually no criticism, just a remark.

If the “Jupiter” is Mozart’s grandest symphony, the third is correspondingly Rachmaninov’s grandest concerto, arguably his grandest composition, and it was presented accordingly. I was very much impressed by Jumppanen and look forward to hearing him again, perhaps in some Beethoven sonatas?

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)