Photograph of Sakari Oramo

Nielsen
Helios Overture
Clarinet Concerto
Symphony No.4
(’Inextinguishable’)

Colin Parr (clarinet)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo
For the last concert in the ’Discover Denmark’ festival, Sakari Oramo and the CBSO programmed an all-Nielsen concert. Its almost ten years since Simon Rattle traversed the symphonies with the orchestra; the extent to which Oramo has asserted his own interpretative credentials confirms his remaking of the CBSO’s ’sound’ in his three years as Principal Conductor.
Helios proved less purely atmospheric than is the norm, Oramo building momentum right from the opening pedal notes in the bass, so that the climactic arrival of E major felt more the outcome of a process than an intensification of mood. The central portion was securely handled, the strings’ fugato taken at a rapid rate, though Oramo perhaps over-stated the final climax; the coda’s calm less than inevitable.
The Clarinet Concerto has to be the most complete realisation of the instrument’s concerto potential (and that’s not leaving Mozart out of the equation). Its single-movement distils many of the recalcitrant qualities given their head in the Sixth Symphony, suggesting formal and thematic pointers for the likely development of Nielsen’s music had he lived another decade. Though the ghost of a four-movement classical structure lingers on, the work integrates symphonic thinking with a concerto-type dualism not before attempted to this degree.
Colin Parr, principal of the CBSO for over thirty years, has a long association with this work – having played it with the orchestra back in 1982. He captured the ruminative yet quizzical feel of the opening pages, with the initially easeful quality of the ’Poco adagio’ theme touchingly rendered. Elsewhere, particularly in the cadenzas and developmental passages, there was a certain reticence in projecting the music’s anarchic qualities, despite unstinting support from Oramo (the violins are sorely tested in this work) and properly irascible (side) drumming from Huw Ceredig. Yet this was a sympathetic account of a masterpiece still to be fully absorbed into the wider concerto repertoire.
Two years ago, Oramo made his Proms debut with an often thrilling account of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony. The present performance realised much of that potential, the powerfully controlled opening movement – the visceral opening bars leapt into sound – readily taking flight in the blazing close of the exposition and the rhythmic dislocations of the development. The pastoral ’Intermezzo’ was deftly despatched, Ulrich Heinen tellingly understated in the cello line that briefly underpins the texture and attuned to the heart-warming theme that marks the third movement’s central section.
Oramo tore into this movement with raw immediacy, and if the grandly rhetorical climax was a shade overwrought, the lead-in to the finale was unerringly judged. The movement itself was vigorous but never headlong, the motivic significance as well as physical impact of the duelling timpani given space to register. The only real reservation concerned the very close. Oramo’s headlong descent from the movement’s final climax had given him little option but to adopt a slower tempo following the main theme’s apotheosis. Superbly executed in context, a sense of the music’s reaching beyond its actual close is more exciting still; and truer to the work’s ethos of ’inextinguishable’ forces.
A rewarding conclusion, then, to a significant retrospective, which has done much to reaffirm Nielsen as a symphonist of world stature. I look forward to what will hopefully be a complete cycle from Oramo over the coming years.

 

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