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ibelius, Tüür, Rachmaninov: Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Michael Collins (clarinet), Philharmonia Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor): QEH: 5.2.2006 (AR) 

What was so striking about
Paavo Järvi’s imaginatively balanced programme was how the superlative woodwind playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra surpassed all other internationally renowned orchestras. Järvi’s beautifully balanced and well-paced performance of Sibelius’s masterpiece Tapiola, Op. 112 was similar to that of Herbert von Karajan’s recorded with the same orchestra in 1953. Andrew Smith’s incisive opening timpani flourish and his dynamic playing throughout provided added intensity to this electrifying performance.The scintillating Philharmonia strings were in their element producing a versatile array of sparkling, shimmering sounds - from the chilling to the frankly shivery - making the warm, dry QEH acoustic sound cold and wet.

The 46 year-old Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür's Concerto for Violin & Clarinet, Noēsis (‘the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning’) was given its European Première tonight. Isabelle van Keulen, violin, and Michael Collins, clarinet, played beyond being human, producing extraterrestrial sounds never quite heard before yet melting perfectly in and out of the Philharmonia’s equally strange tonal world. Collins and van Keulen are not a duo per se in this work, but are more like a soloist and his spirit, his shadow, where the violin stalks, seduces and molests the clarinet. They are also 'parasitic' or perhaps even 'symbiotic' in their relationship with the orchestra; they feed off the polyphonic shape-shifting sounds emerging from it which in their turn re-echo the solo instruments.

Tüür’s outlandish orchestration is dense and transparent at the same time; it is congested and yet somehow deserted giving the sensation of 'Being' over flowing with 'Nothingness’. In one sense it was impossible to concentrate on the music because there was ‘nothing’ there to meditate upon due to its quicksilver chameleon character: rather it was as though the music concentrated the audience through an ephemeral array of shape-shifting sounds that re-tuned the ear and turned it 'inside out.'  Järvi and the Philharmonia gave an intensely involved performance of an important and imaginative score.


Afterwards, an American next to me did not applaud, saying that he hadn't understand the music. Adorno and Schoenberg however, were once at a concert of the later composer’s  Variations, Opus 31 and experienced a similar situation. While Schoenberg felt that booing meant the audience did not understand his music, Adorno argued that, on the contrary, they had grasped it very well indeed. So my neighbour's ‘negative’ response might actually have demonstrated the exact opposite of what he intended: in his alienation from the piece he had grasped the music perfectly so that his 'negative-identification' with it both mirrored and complemented the ‘negativity' and ‘alienality’ that the work implies.

Paavo Järvi’s refreshing reading of Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 was stripped of the usual sentimental schmaltz often associated with this score; and yet again it was the woodwind which made this performance so poignant. As beautifully played as this performance was however, it  did not match Mikhail Pletnev’s paradigm reading that I heard with the same orchestra a year ago. (RFH, 6th February, 2005).

Järvi paced the Largo – Allegro perfectly, never letting the music sound sluggish and making it flow with a melting breezy ease that played down the overt romanticism of the music. He built up the tension and dynamics gradually with the brilliant brass bursting into golden flames in the concluding passages.

The Allegro molto was conducted with a buoyant, lilting grace making the music sound brisker and lighter textured than usual with the percussion having a delicate lucidity and clarity; again Järvi negotiated the condensed and claustrophobic QEH accoustic with mastery so that the music felt surrounded by eternally expansive spaces.

The hallmark of the Adagio was the opening glowing clarinet solo which resonated warmly with the toned down strings and brass. This movement was serene and sedate rather than sentimental with Järvi holding back the sluggish Mantovani styled ‘heart on sleeve’ swooning strings, making the melancholic music sound more cool and classical and devoid of the customary romantic yearnings.

In the concluding Allegro vivace, Järvi
reined in the sound with a cool reserve eschewing the habitual pomposity of this rather inflated and bombastic movement. In the concluding passages, the timpani and percussion played with a brio and bite that brought the capacity house down.

Alex Russell

: Tapiola; Symphonies No. 6 & No. 7; Philharmonia Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan: Karajan Edition: EMI: 566602.


Sibelius: Tapiola; Symphony No. 7, Pelleas et Melisande

The Tempest, The Oceanides; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham (conductor): Stereo 1955: EMI CHM 7 63400 2.

Erkki-Sven Tüür: Action-Passion-Illusion. Zeitraum;
Estonian-Finnish Orchestra, Anu Tali (conductor):
Warner Classics 2564 61992-2.

Erkki-Sven Tüür: Violin Concerto. Auditus. Exodu;s
Isabelle van Keulen, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor): ECM 472 497-2.


: Symphonies No 1-3, The Rock: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (conductor): 2 CDs: DG Masters: 4455902.


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