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Seen and Heard Promenade Concert Review

 


 

PROM 55:  Lindberg, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Nikolai Znaider (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, 25.08.06 (AO)

 

 

Magnus Lindberg's new work, Sculpture, was written to honour the innovative building Frank Gehry designed for the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  "Music is making notes vibrate in space," says Lindberg, much in the way that great architecture shapes the space it contains. At its premičre, critics described the way the music resonated in the hall as "musical shiatsu".

Since I don't read programmes about new music before listening, I was delighted, because my instinctive response was that Sculpture was an urban equivalent of Sibelius's wild open spaces. This perhaps is Lindberg's Related Rocks in the context of modern cities. Lindberg's characteristic huge, dense shapes of sound here took on the sonic equivalent of primordial energy - I thought "tectonic plates", though in connection with Los Angeles that isn't a comfortable idea.  Dark building blocks are lit up by accents like a soaring ascent on trombone followed by trumpet, and string passages that seem to flow as limpidly as shining water.  Two harps, and later two pianos, and two bassoons, play vibrant exotic melodies that contrast with the slow, deep traverse of the main themes.  Even if you don't know the background, this is very structural music, its shapes clearly defined, interacting in a kind of organic unity.  Urban landscapes have their beauty, too.   The sight of sunlight on glass walled skyscrapers, mirroring sky, clouds and other buildings, is as remarkable as anything in nature.  Listening to this music made me think of being in the "canyons" of the city, looking up at shining towers of glass and steel, reflecting and refracting light and colour.

Why Mendelssohn's lyrical Violin Concerto between the monumental Lindberg and Sibelius symphonies?  It was a fascinating juxtaposition that brought out aspects of Mendelssohn's work that are seldom appreciated.  Mendelssohn's gentleness and elegance belie great strength of spirit.  Violin and orchestra weave together, without any need to dominate: they start out with tentative steps, yet there's never any doubt that through this balance, they'll create something  memorable.  Znaider played with great feeling - what a pleasure to hear a mature mind express the emotional depth of Mendelssohn's all-to-easily prettified melodies! This didn't at all come across as virtuoso versus orchestra, but captured a sense of genuine, joint co operation.  I wonder if Saraste is not, at heart, a Romantic?  He conducted in such harmony with Znaider, that it proved how powerful conviction can be when executed with poise and assurance.

Saraste brought similar grace to Sibelius' Fifth Symphony.  The composer wrote of his initial inspiration, when he watched a flock of swans circling overhead.  Obviously, the music isn't literal, but expresses his awe of the beauty of his surroundings.  Saraste's approach is surprisingly clean and modern.  He keeps the textures separate, letting details like the beautiful bassoon solo shine through.  Sibelius uses only one percussionist, with forces no greater than two kettledrums, yet the cumulative effect is of colossal forces, wave after wave of crescendi surging forwards. Lindberg uses five desks of percussion, complete with giant gong and bass drum, yet manages a sense of transparency.  Such are the ways composers adapt their forces for quite different effects.   The spartan scoring for strings in the Andante mosso was particularly well played, violins plucked as if creeping on tip toe, so accurately together the mass seemed as one.  In the final movement, the "soaring peaks" of sound surged forth again, horns, bassoons, then flutes, then oboes and strings building up to the final crescendo.  Then, with a flourish, came the immortal ending with its six distinct chords crashing into silence.  This was not the wildest, nor the most frenzied of interpretations, but it was well balanced and well performed.

 

 


Anne Ozorio

 

 


 



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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)