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