Articles and Features

The Art of Accompaniment

Written by: Duncan Hadfield

It seems that Schumann’s star has never shone brighter than at present; rarely does a week of London’s concert life go by without one of his symphonies, concertos or piano works being aired somewhere in the capital. Only the other week at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sir Charles Mackerras with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment recreated a concert given by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1855 which featured the composer’s Introduction and Allegro and Symphony No.2. Yet maybe one aspect of Schumann’s considerable output which remains neglected are his large-scale vocal and choral pieces. That said, two of these have just been played in a South Bank season called Scenes from Schumann – the opera Genoveva, given by Opera North, and the secular oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri again from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment this time under Mark Elder. Now, three recitals featuring Schumann’s songs will grace the South Bank.

At the piano for all these recitals will be the esteemed accompanist and song expert Roger Vignoles. The art of accompaniment is a precarious business but Vignoles has mastered it totally. He informs me that “playing solo piano music never really appealed that much to me as I was always attracted to the human voice and the setting of texts. People might think that accompanying song is something of a backseat or subservient role but it’s not; in fact, I believe it’s the pianist rather than the singer who has far more scope for self-expression. Plus he leads the song so to speak and is responsible for the different textures and the establishment of an overall atmosphere. Also I enjoy performing with other people and what excites me is a sort of working spirit of reciprocity which I believe, in the arena of song, maybe more even than with chamber music, amounts to a true artistic collaboration.”

Vignoles has worked with some of the world’s finest singers. How does the partnership usually start? “Either I know of them or they know of me or an agent brings us together or there’s the desire to perform a certain section of repertoire or to put together interesting programmes: all sorts of ways.” On top of that there’s no doubt that singers relish having Roger Vignoles as their right-hand man because of his truly encyclopaedic mindset when it comes to the entire world of song. “Yes, I’ve always enjoyed looking into the background of the material I approach and individual items seem to linger-on in my consciousness for a long time, so it might just occur to me that we could do this Brahms song, say, which I might have last aired ten years ago.”

As for the South Bank’s Schumann series, he goes on to say: “It seems that of all great composers maybe none was more steeped in the literature of his time than Schumann. In his early years he might well have become a writer rather than a composer; plus, of course, he was a brilliant critic to boot. So Schumann was drawn to so much Romantic literature both in German, such as Goethe, Heine, Eichendorff, and English like Byron and Burns. It was Amelia Freedman’s enterprising idea to put together a hopefully inviting package of concerts and recitals, which would examine some of those all-important influences on his output. Most Schumann series of course tend to involve his non-vocal music so I think this is a very novel and intriguing slant, and having programmed two large-scale pieces (the afore-mentioned Genoveva and Das Paradies) it was decided to supplement them with three evenings of song. I suppose it was then left to me to select just which of Schumann’s 200 or songs we would do. The decision wasn’t exactly that difficult for I knew I certainly wanted to put on what I think is an extraordinary cycle called Myrthen which features both baritone and soprano and which Schumann composed as a gift to his bride-to-be, Clara; and in fact the title refers to the sprig of myrtle contained in the traditional wedding wreath. What I also especially like about it is that it sets poems by very different poets, framing that diversity with an opening and closing song which treats texts by Ruckert.”

Also dating from 1840 – Schumann’s year of song – is the Liederkreis, Op.39, for which the baritone Robert Holl joins Vignoles on Feb 22. “It’s of course one of his best-known cycles,” he says, “setting poems by Eichendorff … yet perhaps because Robert Holl has such a brooding and dark-toned voice I thought it might be interesting to place this Liederkreis alongside some of the songs of Schumann’s last years, such as the Lenau-Lieder and the Harfenspieler-lieder, full of melancholy, foreboding and premonitions of death.”

Meanwhile in the first of the recitals tonight, more last songs by Schumann, the Spanische Liebeslieder, as set alongside Liebesliederwalzer by his friend and pupil Brahms. “Again it’s another way of putting something in perspective,” says Vignoles. “Brahms writes his songs for four voices and piano duet and openly alludes to the kind of domestic music-making which occurred in Schumann’s circle and of which the young Brahms was part.” So a potentially fascinating Schumann series awaits us at the South Bank which promises to probe Schumann’s dramatic and literary bent to the full. As Roger Vignoles concludes: “There’s a great sense of theatre about all these songs and I think the Queen Elizabeth Hall is exactly the right auditorium to bring that across – one feels an open space almost like actors might on stage. Hopefully from such a platform we can launch some mesmerising Scenes from Schumann.”

The Queen Elizabeth Hall plays host to Roger Vignoles’s three February evenings of song – Scenes from Schumann

  • Monday 12 February – singers include Emma Bell, Sarah Connolly, Toby Spence and Stephen Loges with second pianist Michael Hampton
  • Saturday 17 – Christiane Oelze and Wolfgang Holzmair perform Myrthen and a selection of Duets
  • Thursday 22 – Robert Holl includes Liederkreis (Op.39) and two late cycles, Opp.90 & 98

All concerts start at 7.45pm

Telephone bookings: 020 7960 4201

Book online:

The Art of Accompaniment Read More »

Chamber Music 2000 – The Schubert Ensemble

Written by: Duncan Hadfield

Ever since its formation in 1983 the Schubert Ensemble has been involved in educational work. That impulse stepped up a gear two years ago with the instigation of the Chamber Music 2000 project, the commissioning of a substantial collection of new chamber works suitable for schoolchildren and adults of all levels of technical ability.

At the official launch of Chamber Music 2000 at a press event at London’s Steinway Hall on Tuesday 13 February, patron Sir Colin Davis spoke of his delight that the process of music-making hand-in-hand with new works is being actively generated in schools, and directed towards young participants. “It’s a vibrant and stimulating process,” Sir Colin said, “especially refreshing in a climate of sterile touch-button technology.”

To coincide with Chamber Music 2000 the Schubert Ensemble has released a CD on the NMC label – a white room – which contains no fewer than 20 works from composers as diverse as Judith Weir, Howard Skempton, Philip Cashian, Gerald Barry, John Woolrich, David and Colin Matthews, Sally Beamish and Piers Hellawell, whose composition gives the album its title. It was a piano quartet from Camden School for Girls who expertly played Hellawell’s brief but pithy opus at the launch event.

The Schubert Ensemble has a packed and hectic schedule of educational work in its diary, visiting schools and colleges throughout Britain. It finds time to give a Wigmore Hall recital on 23 March of Schumann, Martin Butler and Elgar, which will be prefaced at 6pm with the Schubert’s offering a (free) Chamber Music 2000 Showcase Concert – airing some more of these exciting commissions.

Chamber Music 2000 – The Schubert Ensemble Read More »

Henri Dutilleux at 85

Written by: David Wordsworth

The great French composer Henri Dutilleux was 85 on January 22nd. He occupies a unique place in the music of our time, which is especially extraordinary considering that his reputation rests on no more than 10 major works. By Dutilleux’s own admission, and regret, he works very slowly, but so perfectly realised and crafted are the finished products that he allows out of his workshop that the musical world literally holds its breath every time there is a rumour of a new piece.

Dutilleux firmly refutes the idea that he was a gifted child, though he was composing by the age of 13. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire (his fellow-student Paul Tortelier became a life-long friend), but his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the second war. Varied positions followed – teacher of harmony, arranger of nightclub music (how I would love to hear some of that!), chorus-master at the Paris Opera, and for many years he held various senior positions at French Radio. These onerous responsibilities quite clearly took their toll on Dutilleux’s compositional activity – with such a short time to compose each day it is perhaps unsurprising that the only major works to appear during the 1950s were the two symphonies. After that period, though hardly prolific, Dutilleux has written a series of works of a constantly high quality, which in a relatively short time have found their way into the orchestral repertoire.

Dutilleux is a man of wide culture, independent, with a surprisingly wide knowledge of new music (he speaks particularly warmly of young British composers, who in turn are devoted to him). He has never belonged to any school, standing well-apart from his older compatriot Messiaen and the younger Pierre Boulez whose dictatorial control over Parisian musical life in the 1960s and 1970s accounts for the fact that Dutilleux’s reputation seems to be so much higher in the UK and USA than it is in France. It is astonishing to report that it took a British orchestra (the CBSO under Sakari Oramo) to play Dutilleux’s work for the first time in the Citie de la Musique a couple of years ago – this ridiculous situation is akin to banning Tippett from the Barbican!

If there is a composer that comes to mind when listening to Dutilleux’s early work it is Ravel – both composers have the same fastidious and painstaking attitude to their work, the same remarkable ear for orchestration, a common harmonic richness and, I imagine, much the same personal qualities. Dutilleux is what one might describe in old-fashioned terms as ’the perfect gentleman’, and perhaps the classic example of a composer behaving like his music – an immense hidden strength and determination, an elegance, and a seriousness of purpose which, when one gets to know him a little, hides a refined wit and twinkle in the eye. The debt to Ravel, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Roussel, is clear in the early works, most of which Dutilleux has destroyed. Though he has not culled others, one rather gets the impression that he wishes he had – this includes the charming Sonatina for Flute & Piano (1942). I have sat with the composer on a couple of occasions and watched him almost bristle with impatience. On one occasion a respected flautist came to the composer and asked him to inscribe the music. Dutilleux, charming as ever, duly obliged muttering something about “this old work”. The player responded: “Well Maitre, if you will write us a new piece… “. Dutilleux merely smiled and said, “Perhaps!” As he already has a long, long list of requests I would not want flautists to get too excited!

Dutilleux’s first acknowledged work (almost!) is his magnificent Piano Sonata (1947) written for his wife Genevieve Joy – recordings show Joy to be the most remarkable pianist, well up to the considerable demands of this major piece. Stories abound amongst Joy’s pupils about her remarkable ability to sight-read the most complex twentieth-century scores at the piano – Madame continues to be a formidable presence in the Maitre’s life.

Excepting the pretty-much disowned ballet, Le Loup, Dutilleux’s first major orchestral work, Symphony No.1, did not appear until 1950, by which time the composer was already in his mid-thirties. This work shows for the first time some of Dutilleux’s characteristic techniques – a joy of sound itself, a love of a certain type of sonority, rich brass chords and lush (not to say very demanding) string writing (ask any double bass players that have had to find their way around the multiple divided harmonics in The Shadows of Time). Dutilleux often presents the orchestral families in blocks of sound: Symphony No2 Le Double (1959) takes the process even further by having a group of twelve players separated from the main orchestra – the influences of plainchant and big-band jazz (one of Dutilleux’s great loves) become more apparent. A fondness not so much for traditional forms but continual and developing variation gives rise to a rare fluidity and improvisational quality, particularly evident in Metaboles premiered by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1964, one in a series of American commissions that illustrate Dutilleux’s standing in the United States. Above all an economy of means with each note being in what seems exactly the right place at the right time help create that magical sound that only Dutilleux conjures up.

Dutilleux has denied ever writing programme music and yet most of his works
have the most poetic titles – the Cello Concerto, Tout un monde lointain (1968-70), the Violin Concerto, L’Arbre des songes (1983-85) and the beautiful String Quartet, Ainsi la nuit (1975-76). The concertos are characterised by a sort of spiritual fantasy rather than flashy virtuosity. Dutilleux tells how when writing L’Arbre des songes for Isaac Stern that he studied all the virtuoso pieces he could find – Ysaye, Wieniawski, Paganini – but just could not bring himself to write such music. Indeed it is this spiritual quality that seems to be a part of every Dutilleux creation – each piece carrying a message of wisdom, warmth and humanity.

Dutilleux’s latest work, The Shadows of Time (1995-97), written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, shows that the composer has lost none of his magic – the message here is the passing of time and the effect that this has on our forgetting the evils of the world, not least those of World War II. A lone child poignantly sings, quoting Anne Frank, “Why us? Why the Star?”. Dutilleux creates some of his most ravishing and keenly imagined orchestral sounds. Time may pass, but with a new work for Dawn Upshaw, the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle almost finished and other new works being thought about, let us hope that there are many more productive years ahead for Henri Dutilleux, and continued good health for this remarkable man.

Happy Birthday Dear Maitre and Thank You.

Henri Dutilleux at 85 Read More »

GIUSEPPE VERDI – 100 years on

Written by: Colin Anderson

His name synonymous with opera, Verdi, to quote from Universal’s 2-CD Sampler, had ’an astonishing gift for melody, penetrating psychological insight and direct emotional appeal… ’.

Like Mozart, Verdi is revered for his stage works. Like Mozart, who arrived on 27 January (the one in 1756), so Verdi departed on the one occurring in 1901. This Saturday, then, it will be 100 years since Verdi’s death aged 87 – at 2.50pm in Milan’s Grand Hotel.

One wonders how many times Aida and La Traviata have been staged around the world; how many times a particular aria has found itself into a recital programme by a leading singer of the day?

In writing these few words on an almost exclusively operatic composer (leaving aside the Requiem Mass and Four Sacred Pieces, both choral, there is a only a single string quartet, some songs and a few insignificant piano pieces) I do find myself wondering why I, as someone who would put both opera and song as the final entry on a list of musical pursuits, should be writing something on ’Joe Green’.

Well, I think he’s underrated. A strange thing to say, perhaps, given Verdi’s huge popularity, but there are two aspects of his art that I believe falls, literally, on deaf ears. One is his use of the orchestra; the other is his ability, sometimes with one instrumental colour or one orchestral phrase, to encapsulate an opera’s plot or reveal a character’s disposition.

I’m sometimes left bewildered by the superficial response that Verdi’s music brings forth. Of course, Verdi’s ability as a tunesmith is recognised; so too – by one remove – there’s an appreciation of his catalogue of vocal ’showstoppers’, riches indeed for singers to wow their audiences with – not always though with musicianship a priority! But that, as they say, is another story.

Mention Verdi’s use of the orchestra, or the role of the conductor in a Verdian drama and, well, there’s no real chance of a discussion – for many people Verdi is the singer first, then the song. There’s no third aspect.

In my opinion, to really understand what Verdi is doing, to really appreciate his genius, you have to be as aware of what is happening in the orchestra (and responsive to the subtleties therein) as you are to the singer – and hopefully one not using the music as a ’vehicle’ but one who understands ’from the inside’ the character being portrayed. And how important a strong conductor is – someone who will lavish care on Verdi’s instrumental writing, bring out pertinent detail and cradle the rhythms (someone simply beating time to star-singing is anathema to me). That same, strong podium-force will bind the cast together and ensure there’s no vocal loose cannons.

What has long drawn me to Verdi’s operas is his ability to suggest so much with a single musical gesture. A particular orchestral colour, an instrumental phrase or a harmonic twist can immediately suggest an atmosphere, the storyline or underline and complement the character’s emotional state. Some of the plots Verdi dramatised may be daft, some of the characters may be of the ’cardboard’ variety, but Verdi’s orchestral brushstrokes and sheer humanity are omnipresent to elevate plot and character weaknesses – and present, to a greater or lesser extent, in Verdi’s earliest and middle-period operas (his self-termed ’galley years’).

Verdi’s ability to suggest and complement from within the orchestra may not be shared by all (Verdi was too musically shrewd for some I suppose); what is unarguable is that Verdi developed from a talented composer to a great one. His was not a God-given talent; he worked assiduously to the heights that would create Simon Boccanegra, Otello and Falstaff – things tending to come in threes, these are my nominations as Verdi’s greatest achievements. If I could have only one, it would be Otello, one of the supreme operas.

But I wouldn’t want to be without so much more – Macbeth, Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlos … the list isn’t endless, but of the twenty-eight operas Verdi composed between 1839 (Oberto) to 1893 (Falstaff), I’ve rarely been disappointed; the trick, as Riccardo Chailly points out in his Classical Source interview with me, is to appreciate where Verdi was in his own development – it’s a long journey from Oberto to Falstaff. The talent was always there; how Verdi charts a course of increasing achievement is fascinating.

The 2-CD Sampler that Universal has issued offers 150 minutes of Verdi excerpts from across his sixty creative years. Taken from the rich catalogues of Decca, DG and Philips, conductors include Giulini, Karajan, Maazel, Carlos Kleiber and Solti; singers such as Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras (The Three Tenors if you prefer), and Caballe, Tebaldi and Cotrubas on the distaff side, are among those who offer vocal finery. The CDs are very thoughtfully arranged in chronological order with something from each opera – from the Sinfonia (overture) to Oberto – a shapely and spirited rendition under Neville Marriner – to the brilliant closing fugue from Giulini’s 1982 Falstaff, every bar bearing the hallmark of genius conducting, this is, if you will, an A-Z of Verdi. As a final track, Solti conducts part one of Verdi’s Requiem – well, its composer did die one hundred years ago!

Universal is asking what amounts to a small handling-charge for its two CDs, which do require some persuading from the stiff card housing them, and you also get a handsome illustrated biography of Verdi, a guide to his operas and a complete catalogue of recordings – Universal’s naturally! As an introduction to the composer, this is excellent; as a two-and-a-half hour aural journey through his development as an opera composer, it’s both illuminating and a pleasure; as a book of storylines and general information, it’s useful and helpful.

Decca provides a new recording from another distinguished Verdian, Riccardo Chailly. This includes no fewer that five first recordings including the twenty-minute Messa Solenne. There’s some real discoveries here, not least the Haydnesque Messa, which pre-dates Oberto by a few years. (As Dino Rizzo, his critical editions of this music are used by Chailly, reminds in his liner notes, Verdi began and ended his career with sacred music – the Four Sacred Pieces came after Falstaff.) I like too the Qui Tollis, not least for its delightful clarinet obbligato. There’s some fine singing too – Kenneth Tarver (who always receives good notices it seems; his Tantum ergo in G explains why) and Cristina Gallardo-Domas (wonderfully intense in the dark Ave Maria and in the Libera me written for Rossini’s passing, which Verdi would then use, with quite a few alterations, to conclude his full setting of the Messa da Requiem).

The glory of this ’rare Verdi’ CD is the endless fund of melody and Verdi’s honesty, integrity and deftness of touch. There’s some splendid singing, the recording is excellent, and Chailly conducts with the utmost sympathy and understanding.

As an orchestral appendix – four-and-a-half hours of it – may I recommend Chandos’s 4-CD survey (selling for the price of 3) that contains everything Verdi wrote for the orchestra? Here are all the opera overtures (including one of the very greatest of its kind, The Force of Destiny) and all the ballet music, written to satisfy the convention of Verdi’s day (especially in Paris) of including an unrelated ballet during the opera itself. Included are such curiosities as the overture Verdi wrote, and then withdrew, for the Italian premiere of Aida (following its initial unveiling in Cairo). With excellent sound, splendid playing from the BBC Philharmonic and the conducting of Sir Edward Downes, one of the most experienced and perceptive Verdi interpreters around, this is a set full of good and lovely things. As Universal’s Sampler asserts: Viva Verdi

All the above CDs mentioned may be purchased at the classical source.

SamplerUniversal Classics 467 245-2 (2CDs with book)

Messa Solenne etc. conducted by Riccardo ChaillyDECCA 467 280-2

Complete Preludes, Overtures & Ballet Music conducted by Sir Edward DownesCHANDOS CHAN 9787(4), four CDs for the price of three

Add to Basket Add to Basket Add to Basket

GIUSEPPE VERDI – 100 years on Read More »

Maintaining Pace

Written by: Duncan Hadfield

The dynamic and immensely gifted pianist Ian Pace has already faced some stern challenges in his time, frequently concentrating on some of the most formidably complex keyboard music in the contemporary repertoire. Yet these challenges peak when Pace, this coming Sunday (28 January) at the Duke’s Hall of the Royal Academy of Music, delivers the world premiere of what is the longest non-repetitive piano piece ever written: Michael Finnissy’s five-and-a-half-hour History of Photography in Sound.

Yet, astonishingly, the laid-back Pace seems completely unfazed by the arduous task at hand, or, more appropriate, hands! But, then, he has “already played Finnissy’s piano works to date in a six-concert series I gave back in 1996, as well as … executing sections of History of Photography too.” In addition, his “friendship with the composer stretches back to the 1980s – I think I’m getting familiar with his diverse idioms.”

Nevertheless when it comes to Sunday’s marathon, which he delivers in three parts at 1, 4 and 7pm respectively, how will Pace address the sheer wealth of material? “Well, obviously I’ve been practising a lot, and in that process breaking it down to smaller and smaller manageable chunks. I then see it as my task to build it up again by mentally and technically cross-referencing sections to get the hang of the overall structure. After that it’s just a case of filling in details, dynamics, articulation and so on – but I think that’s the nature of all musical performance. I always like to think there has to be some fluidity left for when I actually get up there and perform, and I suppose that’s where the frisson lies.”

Does the History of Photography in Sound have a specific agenda? “Well, I think it has many, as you might expect from an opus of such extraordinary length. I also believe that with it Michael has taken the opportunity to take stock of his life’s work, as well as move forward and explore new ideas. He’s actually described the three words of the title in different ways: History, that which is always forgotten yet newly remembered; Photography, that which records things as they ’seem’ to be; and Sound, that which is heard, as distinct from seen or touched. On top of that the work’s eleven sections often exploit or parallel the medium of film itself through such techniques as cinematic perspective, montage, fades, dissolves and jump-cuts.”

It all seems like grist to the mill to this Herculean pianist, but then he has been occupying a piano stool “since the age of six and was, I suppose, ineluctably drawn to the instrument.” Studies at Chetham’s School of Music, Queen’s College, Oxford (where he first met Finnissy) and New York’s Juilliard School followed. “I’ve always derived much pleasure from learning and exploring new or exciting repertoire, though I have hopefully played my fair share of classics in the process. There’s something I particularly relish about facing something untouched, something one has to think about and try and set in order in one’s mind before approaching it – almost like uncharted terrain. However, total engagement is what I attempt to avoid. I think there’s a danger in confusing identification with a composer and his work and one’s personal feelings towards that composer, which is particularly true of someone like Finnissy who I know very well. I feel I have to give him the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, and thus come at his music from an analytical perspective although not a cold-blooded one.”

Yet when the sun finally sets on Finnissy’s mammoth History of Photography in Sound at around 9pm this Sunday (and Pace has no doubt left the platform to tumultuous applause … and to bathe his hands in soothing balm) this tireless pianist won’t have many days to re-compose himself before his next major London appearance – a Wigmore Hall recital on Friday 9 February entitled A Portrait of John Ogdon, in which he plays Liszt, Busoni, Scriabin, Maxwell Davies and the late Ogdon himself.

Yet again the cerebral Ian Pace seems immediately able to home-in on why he’s giving this concert. “John Ogdon was obviously a key figure, but since he died at the tragically young age of just 52 back in 1989, his star might have faded somewhat, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to present an affectionate, retrospective evening and play not only some of the large range of repertoire with which Ogden was associated but also some of his own compositions, which are fascinating and, to some extent, unduly neglected.”

Once again this Wigmore Hall recital promises to be an unmissable event of polished pianism at its finest. But then Pace is a consummate artist; the accolades for his championing and execution of modern repertoire, especially Finnissy’s, have been flowing thick and fast. Of the Finnissy series, The Independent observed: ’tackling this difficult corpus requires a will of iron, and Pace has clearly mastered it note for note.’ Yet, from his position on the piano stool, the modest Ian Pace views the entire procedure somewhat differently: “It’s always nice to get notices like that but to my mind the notes on the manuscript paper are not that difficult. I’m just playing music.” Maybe it isn’t that difficult; maybe it’s the prospect of ’just’ listening to Finnissy’s five-hour-plus History of Photography in Sound where the real challenge lies!

Article published on 23 January 2001

Maintaining Pace Read More »

Reviewers Wanted!

Written by: Colin Anderson (Editor)

Classical Source requires a few more contributors based in New York, to cover concerts there. If this agreeable assignment appeals and you can give an idea of your writing experience and musical specialisations, please drop an email to Kevin Rogers, Deputy Editor (to do so, please click here), and we’ll get back to you. Please alert anyone you know who might also be interested. Thank you!

Reviewers Wanted! Read More »

Riccardo Chailly in London

Written by: Colin Anderson

When Riccardo Chailly brings his Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to London’s Royal Festival Hall next Friday for a performance of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, he will do so without apology. “I believe in what Cooke and Goldschmidt have done – this is the last masterpiece of Mahler. I take it with conviction having conducted the whole universe of Mahler – the Tenth really belongs to Mahler until the last bar.”

When Mahler died in 1911 he left his Tenth Symphony unfinished but complete from first bar to last in short score, sometimes just one line. Despite there being, according to Chailly, fourteen different versions of Mahler 10 (four by the late Deryck Cooke himself), Chailly clarifies that “the one we are performing now has all the amendments that Maestro Goldschmidt wanted included”. The also late Berthold Goldschmidt conducted the premiere of Cooke’s First Performing Version in the ’sixties, and his views have been incorporated into Cooke’s final version by Colin Matthews.

For Chailly, the Tenth’s “process of development, getting clearer, simpler and the most unglamorous orchestration is absolutely fascinating.”

Chailly first conducted Mahler’s Tenth in the eighties, and made a recording with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (recently re-issued on a single CD by Decca). This, it should be noted, is texturally different to the ’definitive’ one he’s now playing (which Chailly hopes to record in a few years time after the cycle proper has been completed – Symphonies 2, 3, 8 & 9 and Das Lied von der Erde to come). Chailly says that in the latest version some percussion has been deleted and there are a number of harmonic corrections and orchestration changes. Incidentally, Chailly feels no need to make any emendations of his own to this Cooke/Goldschmidt/Matthews collaborative edition.

Chailly cites the “richness of parts, the scrupulous attention to detail from Cooke” and particularly praises Cooke’s “non-ego in this process,” appreciating the “simplicity and spontaneity” of Cooke’s approach. Where might Mahler have gone had he lived to complete the Tenth? “I think the answer is given by the famous vertical cluster of ten pitches [in the outer movements], which makes it clear he was getting close to the twelve-tone system.”

Chailly’s recent Mahler 4 (like all his recordings, for Decca) was notable for the conductor opting for antiphonal violins. For the Tenth also? “No! We use it for the Mahler Symphonies except for the Tenth because this did not belong at the time of Willem Mengelberg, to the performing practice of Mahler in Amsterdam. We perform the classical stuff from Bach to Beethoven and the Mahler Symphonies like this but not the Tenth; the normal setting of the Concertgebouw is not with divided violins.”

Given the huge Mahler tradition of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, I wondered if there had been any opposition from players about performing music that was not wholly from Mahler’s hand. Although Chailly acknowledges that the Tenth is “only now becoming part of our new tradition… there is complete conviction from the orchestra that this music is so great… it’s too much of a great piece to be discussed”. They play it again next season; the third consecutive season the Tenth has been included. In any case Chailly feels that discussion on Mahler 10 is “out of place because of Mahler’s detailed orchestration and the construction of the piece from A-Z is very clear – written through by himself.”

I ask Chailly if he’s ever discussed with a Mahler colleague who doesn’t conduct the whole Tenth as to why. He hasn’t but speculates that “the general attitude is fear… too much unknown and also the complexity: let’s not forget the second movement is a struggle, it’s a neurotic movement where the Landler is cut into uneven beats… very difficult, it gets close to The Rite of Spring.”

As for other versions of Mahler 10 – for example those of Clinton Carpenter and Remo Mazzetti, both recorded – Chailly feels there is “too much embellishment” and again praises Cooke for providing “the basics to help the score to be playable.” Or, as I term it, just doing enough.

I suggest that the flute melody in the last movement is among Mahler’s most sublime inventions. “That’s one of the simplest melodies and one of the highest points of spirituality of the finale”. Chailly describes the closing bars as “the last shout against destiny”. A quote of the Liebestod from Tristan I suggest. “I never thought of that… maybe, but my perception is that the melody brings us more to a redemption than is in Tristan, more a farewell, a last look to life before the end. But the scream, that glissando in the strings… of course, Wagner is always in the shadows especially in the first movement Adagio. Another thing that is alarming is in the second scherzo when Mahler quotes himself – the great theme from the first song of Das Lied – a literal quotation in violas and cellos which is screaming through this scherzo… a heathen signature of himself.”

Mahler links to Chailly’s other orchestra, the Milan Symphony Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi. It was Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (No.2) that opened the new Milan concert hall recently, Chailly conducting of course, with an orchestra “now in its eighth year of life… I’m the Music Director”. The Milan Symphony Orchestra… Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi (either or both titles seem acceptable) has 120 musicians, “all professionals, we have fifteen nationalities, so its open to all communities” – but consists mostly of Italians Chailly says – “and I believe this can become for the Italian symphonic tradition a major presence.”
“Milan has waited for half-a-century for an auditorium for symphonic music… now in our home we are working daily on our identity”. The MSOGV has its own chorus under Romano Gandolfi, “a well-known figure from La Scala,” and the Orchestra plays 32 programmes between October and July. Chailly has appointed Yutaka Sado and Vladimir Jurowski as Principal Guest Conductors, has invited Luciano Berio to conduct concerts of his own music and has named as Laureate Conductor none other than Carlo Maria Giulini – “a privilege… an unique chance for the orchestra to work with this great conductor”. Chailly informs that Giulini only conducts rehearsals now “since he fainted two years ago. He likes to be close to us just to have contact with the music… he makes rehearsals of great repertoire a few days every month, a major symphony – Beethoven, Franck, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and now he’s thinking of bringing some Mahler, which will be fantastic. He likes to do this in a totally closed rehearsal, supervised by his son and doctor… to be sure there are no surprises! He’s in good shape the maestro.”

His two orchestras make for Chailly “a very interesting combination,” conceding that “you cannot be called Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi if you do not dig-in a special Verdi programme to try and master the complexity of Verdi’s style and the tradition of his music”. Naturally we turn to the Milan Symphony’s debut CD ’Verdi Heroines’ with Angela Gheorghiu. “This album is a great start and because Gheorghiu is a spectacular singer” – he praises her understanding of different Verdi characteristics – “but for the orchestra it’s difficult because every opera has its own identity.”

I mention to Chailly my concern about people underestimating Verdi by pitting him against Wagner. “The greatest Wagner conductors were also great Verdi conductors, Toscanini, Victor de Sabata – genius conductors. I do exactly the same – I adore both composers and believe in the Italian tradition of including both. It’s stimulating to conduct these composers who seem so far apart but have so much in common – in Aida, Don Carlos and Otello the Wagnerian influence is very strong”. I mention Verdi’s genius for being able to say and suggest so much with so little. “That’s always been his characteristic even to the end of his life, even in Falstaff which is such a highly intellectual score with a spectacular text. He goes for the simplest result in the way he orchestrates but with such incredible intellectual knowledge to get to the point with simplicity”. I mention that Falstaff is orchestrated with Stravinskian clarity… “Then you see why Stravinsky quotes from Falstaff in Dumbarton Oaks, the bassoon (Chailly sings a phrase from Falstaff, then the Stravinsky – too close to call), he parodies Falstaff because he adored the score – he recognised neo-Stravinsky transparency.”

Chailly is keen to stress how Verdi created his own sound to accompany a melody. “There was always a misunderstanding about the simplicity of the rhythms which have been too much accused. Verdi’s greatest influence was Rossini who was born a genius like Mozart. Verdi was the opposite and started a long process of development, so you should judge Verdi with integrity to his long cycle. It’s too easy to say that Il Corsaro or La Battaglia di Legnano is banal – I can partly agree with that but behind apparent banality there is a direction he’s moving for all the time. In Giovanna d’Arco there are signals of what Verdi would become in Aida.”

Chailly talks about Verdi’s “masterpieces of orchestration. I’ve just done Aida in Amsterdam and the orchestra was amazed at the darkness of sound in the last Act – charcoal colour, a thick, black sound like a funeral march… unbelievable!” Chailly tells that late Verdi was a fascination for Mahler – “a great Verdi conductor, Aida, Otello and Falstaff were among his favourite operas. When Mahler orchestrated the Fourth Symphony he was conducting Falstaff – there are many ideas for colouring that are common between the two things.”

Chailly’s, Gheorghiu’s and Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi’s ’Verdi Heroines’ CD is a nomination in the Recital category of this year’s Gramophone Awards. “It’s nice! For the orchestra this is a great step forward. These are specific awards, which point not only to you but they compare you with the major recordings of the year; it’s a real international affair and important because it’s the selection of very specialised people. It puts some order to this ocean of recordings, an accent on what is valuable and what is not… an indication to people who want to know where to invest their time and money to listen. To be a nominee of the Gramophone Awards is great; whatever happens at the prize we will see but I’m very pleased with that!”

’Verdi Heroines’ is a selection of arias from nine operas. Does it matter about the arias’ place in the operas themselves? “I’ve conducted all the operas in the theatre so I know where [the arias] are coming from. In rehearsal I conveyed the sense of the music to the singer and to the orchestra. In the Otello Willow Song the greatest danger is monotony – you repeat the same words with the same notes; each repetition should mean a different accentuation in terms of emotion. This is what we tried to achieve and, frankly, I feel we did achieve it.”

While Chailly believes that his Milan ensemble has “the potential for a high-category symphony orchestra” he also believes his players “should prove their culture”. So Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi’s second CD is of… Verdi! “We’ve just recorded unpublished sacred music in which you really hear the influence of Rossini”. Verdi’s youthful pieces are all first recordings, “the orchestra had to solve the difficulty of so many scores that have such simplicity – the orchestra must translate those dangers into interpretation.”

The MSOGV isn’t the first symphonic orchestra in Milan. “There was one before but the crazy government ten years ago cut it. Three out of the four RAI orchestras in Napoli, Rome and Milan have gone; only the Turin survived. For fifty years Milan had an orchestra and now has been mutilated from this presence… and in need of a symphony orchestra – this is what makes this orchestra such a challenge for me.”

With a new concert hall as well, symphonic music in Milan is obviously a presence once more. When Chailly brings Mahler 10 to the Royal Festival Hall he’ll be playing it in a hall that has been severely criticised in some quarters and which will be undergoing an acoustical refurbishment in a couple of years time. I tell Chailly that I’m rather fond of the old place, prizing its tonal clarity. “We’ve always enjoyed it,” says Chailly while reminding me that the Concertgebouw has one of the finest acoustics, which spoils them wherever they might be playing in the world. Nevertheless Chailly admits to finding the Royal Festival Hall’s “clarity and transparency rewarding on stage because [the musicians] can listen to each other,” and feels “playing with more presence or playing longer” can compensate for the (relatively) dry acoustic. (Just a tad more warmth then please planners; don’t let music be played in a sea of reverberation. Horrible!)

At the RFH concert on October 6 Mahler 10 is accompanied by his Ruckert-Lieder sung by Matthias Goerne. “I wanted to start Mahler songs with Matthias who I regard as one of the greatest Lieder singers in the world; and a lyric piece like this, not particularly dramatic, is very idiomatic with the style of the Tenth”. Chailly and Goerne will be recording all Mahler’s song-cycles in time.

Imminent Decca recordings with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra include Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci “with the Concertgebouw Orchestra playing in a stunning idiomatic way – you’ll be surprised!” (Chailly laughs). Also out soon are the Eighth Symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, the former in Nowak’s edition – “the short version!” Mahler leads to Shostakovich but Chailly finds the connection “very rarely; I do see much more a Britten connection to Mahler”. Having released Shostakovich CDs of Dance, Jazz and Film music, Chailly is now planning a Theatre disc, but no symphonies – “I’m happy to stay with the alternative music; I find it even more surprising than the symphonies.”

Chailly is looking to concentrate more on Britten over the coming years and says that William Walton’s Façade “is a miracle I love to conduct occasionally”. (And I did check he meant the original version with megaphones – he does!) Chailly is committed to contemporary music but feels a “non-service” is done if a living composer is not combined with a romantic or a baroque composer – “there should be a link between composers to bring [audiences] together; there should also be a high standard of performance, not a read-through”. Webern and Brahms are in Chailly’s next RCO London concert – “Masterpieces” would appear to be the link here.

I suggest to Chailly that he must regard his 2-CD Amsterdam set of Edgard Varese’s (almost) complete music as a notable achievement. He does, together with the to-come Mahler 8 “the next greatest satisfaction in terms of orchestral playing. This gives me an enormous pleasure, another reference point, at least to me, for what we have done together.”

For anyone who finds Varese a tough nut to crack, Chailly suggests Ameriques – Varese’s official Opus One – is the place to start, “a new language but with routes to Stravinsky and Debussy”. I say I also hear a route to Harrison Birtwistle – Chailly agrees – but this is a composer he doesn’t conduct I think. “Earth Dances is a masterpiece, extremely complex, which I admire very much… but there’s many composers I admire who I don’t conduct.”

In London’s Royal Festival Hall Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play Mahler on Friday 6 October; on 19 March 2001 it’s Webern and Brahms The Gramophone Awards are also in the Royal Festival Hall – on Monday 9 October.

Riccardo Chailly’s CD ’Verdi Heroines’ (reviewed by Classical Source’s Geoff Allen) with Angela Gheorghiu and the Milan Symphony Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi is nominated in the Recital category.

Riccardo Chailly in London Read More »

Alan Bush – 100th anniversary

Written by: David Wordsworth

Alan Bush would have been 100 years old on December 22nd 2000. When I got to know him, around the time of his 85th birthday, it seemed as if he would make it to his century. I have a letter from him in 1987 telling me how difficult it was to write seven-part harmony! The result was the Septet Op.118. Well into his ’nineties, Alan still stood tall and strong, his enthusiasm for work undiminished.

Although a telegram from Her Majesty would not have been high on Alan’s list of priorities, he would I know have been hoping that his music might be remembered. Thankfully in a series of centenary concerts at the end of last year some works were revived; the BBC just managed to save its skin by performing and broadcasting Bush’s monumental Piano Concerto. With the formation of the Alan Bush Trust (details below), the promise of more CDs and the long-overdue publication of Nancy Bush’s fascinating little biography, “Alan Bush – Music, Politics, Life” (Thames Publishing), maybe the tide is on the turn.

As far as the countries of Eastern Europe were concerned in the 50s and 60s, it was not Britten or Tippett that were the important figures in British music, but Alan Bush – all of his operas were staged behind the ’Iron Curtain’. By contrast, in the UK, with the exception of Wat Tyler, they remain unstaged and unknown, apart from the very occasional broadcast of studio recordings. Sadly, in some quarters, Alan became better
known for his politics than for his music. Apart from a small, loyal band of followers, the musical establishment turned its back on Alan when he joined the Communist Party. There is a famous story of Vaughan Williams, on hearing of the BBC’s ban on Bush’s music during the war, threatening to withdraw all his work from broadcasting – an extraordinary show of support from the then Grand Old Man of British music. The BBC backed down, but thereafter, although not exactly a ban, broadcasts and performances were few and far between – apart from a guilty effort around the time of important anniversaries – 80th, 85th, 90th birthdays.

It always amazed me how matter-of-fact Alan was about all this, never showing a trace of bitterness or regret. I remember him telling me, in that wonderful voice of his – a sort of booming, southern-counties accent in which every syllable would be carefully enunciated – that “Opera Magnates in this country are not friends of living composers”. From someone who spoke the longest sentences of anyone I have ever met, this is the model of economy.

Perhaps because of his firmly held political views, his commanding voice and imposing stature, Alan had something of a reputation of being rather fierce. Actually, just the opposite was the case – I remember him as warm, friendly, generous and funny; he was an enthusiastic writer of letters (on what looked like the oldest typewriter in the world) – Alan Bush was a man of huge intelligence and, at his best, an astonishingly good composer.

As far as his music is concerned, Dialectic (for string quartet) is a masterpiece, worthy to stand beside pretty much the finest of twentieth-century Quartets. There are not many British composers who have made such a distinguished contribution to the piano’s repertoire – from opposite ends of his career, Relinquishment, Op.11 and the 24 Preludes, Op.84 are especially worthy of attention. For those who like slightly less of a
technical challenge, the Six Short Pieces, Op.99 would be a good start.

The composer once reprimanded me in a friendly way for praising his cantata The Winter Journey – he felt it lacked revolutionary ardour or something – but it’s a beautiful work and any choir looking for an approachable, unusual work for Christmas would do well to investigate this. The solo cantata, Voices of the Prophets, for tenor and piano, providing one ignores some of the silly text, is truly magnificent. Bush obliged most
instrumentalists with interesting works – players of the flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, all the string family, organ, harpsichord, even the Northumbrian Pipes, can find a work in the Bush catalogue. Amongst his orchestral music the Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue, Op.52 is a masterpiece by any standards, while the Variations, Nocturne and Finale on an English Sea-Song for piano and orchestra could become popular given half a chance. Something that I would really love to see revived is the autumnal Piano Quintet, Op.104, written in 1984. I remember a performance at Bush’s 85th-birthday concert in London given by John Bingham and the Medici Quartet – I don’t know if it has been heard since (I suspect not) – this is amongst the very best of Alan and deserves a recording.

It is impossible to cover all 120-odd-opus numbers, especially as several works have yet to be performed, which is a lamentable state of affairs. Let us hope that the centenary celebrations of this extraordinary man spur on the rediscovery of a remarkable and individual musical voice.



ALAN BUSH – MUSIC, POLITICS AND LIFE by Nancy Bush (with an essay on the music by Lewis Foreman) is published by Thames Publishing (distributed by William Elkin Music Services)

Alan Bush – 100th anniversary Read More »

Doing it in Styles

Written by: Duncan Hadfield

Each January over the past decade the BBC Symphony Orchestra has arranged an ample three-day weekend festival at the Barbican in which the spotlight is turned on a major 20th century musical figure. With the inclusion of Janacek, Hindemith, Lutoslawski, Ives, Martinu, Messiaen and Weill, the achievements of some of the past century’s most idiosyncratic and enigmatic masters have been intriguingly disseminated. But maybe none come more idiosyncratic or enigmatic than the man in the limelight does this forthcoming weekend, the late Russian composer Alfred Schnittke.

The prolific Schnittke, who died in 1998, is certainly a chameleon-like figure, and precariously difficult to pin down – maybe in part to his almost unique background and circumstances. Ostensibly a Russian composer but with a German name, he was born in Russia in 1934 without a drop of Russian blood, in the town of Engels (once the capital of a German republic in the Soviet Union) of a Jewish but German-speaking father and German mother. Add to Schnittke’s prevalent Germanic background the fact that, as a boy, he spent a couple of musically-formative years in Vienna and it’s maybe not surprising that Schnittke’s lifelong composing hallmark has been called polystylism, in which he often borrows, twists, alludes to, or parodies a host of other composers in an often free-flowing, post-modernist or collage-like fashion.

Contributing further to Schnittke’s idiosyncrasy, he rose to prominence as a radical avant-gardist at a time when such a stance was certainly frowned upon in the barren cultural climate of post-Stalinist Soviet Union. Add to that a mindset that frequently seems to alternate between moods of the uttermost bleakness and despair, and savage humour on the other – the music of Alfred Schnittke certainly makes its listeners ponder just what sort of concoction they are hearing with the passing of each minute.

The conductor Martyn Brabbins, who presides over two of the Schnittke Weekend’s concerts, agrees: “When one first hears Schnittke – and I remember when I first did – it’s possible to encounter huge difficulties with his language, or maybe one should say languages. You wonder what this guy is up to? Soon though things even out and one sees it’s the very kaleidoscopic nature of the imagination that is the music’s true subject.”

Certainly for anyone unfamiliar with Schnittke’s multi-faceted idiom, a good as work as any with which to start is the encyclopaedic Symphony No.1, which Brabbins conducts this Friday. “The huge First Symphony is archetypal Schnittke,” says Brabbins, “and occupied him for three years between 1969-72. It calls for a massive orchestra and is a kind of Haydn Farewell Symphony in reverse – instead of musicians leaving the stage, they arrive on it to start this epic work. Quotations extend from medieval polyphony to Berg, Gershwin and jazz. It was premiered in Gorky and soon word got out that some very extraordinary musical happening had occurred.” In the same concert, Brabbins also conducts Schnittke’s no less extraordinary Violin Concerto No.4, with its dedicatee Gidon Kremer as soloist. “The violin was always one of Schnittke’s favourite instruments,” he comments, “which he virtually imbues with a personality which represents his own inner mischievous voice. Of course another quirk of the Fourth Concerto is just when one expects a cadenza, the soloist is called upon not to play but mime one.”

Martyn Brabbins’s other concert on Sat (at 1pm) with the London Sinfonietta brings yet more aspects of Schnittke’s curious character to the fore. “We start with the Concerto Grosso No.1 in which we see that his stylistic appropriation also extended to old forms, and here he openly subverts the relationship between the soloists and the ripieno. We end with the very bleak and very austere and sparse Symphony No.4; a genuine statement of deeply held religious faith. And in the middle there’s the world premiere of Fragment, which was commissioned by the Sinfonietta, but which Schnittke sadly didn’t live to finish.”

The plethora of potentially exciting Schnittke compositions to be aired at the Barbican over the coming weekend is almost too numerous to detail. Of the other three big orchestral concerts, Eri Klas conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a line-up which includes the Concerto Grosso No.2, the British premiere of the Symphony No.8, very reminiscent of Shostakovich, and the riotous, lavishly-scored (Not) A Midsummer Night’s Dream.The weekend closes with Leonard Slatkin turning his attention to the very Germanic and ample Third Symphony and the Faust Cantata, partly inspired by Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus about a Schoenbergian composer who sells his soul to the devil. Meanwhile a range of other concerts evince much of Schnittke’s prolific chamber output being aired, including the 1st and 2nd Piano Sonatas, the 2nd and 3rd String Quartets, and music for cello and piano, played by the composer’s friend Alexander Ivashkin and his widow Irina Schnittke.

It all amounts to what should be a tremendous Schnittke Fest. With the addition of talks, lectures and film screenings, as full a picture as we have had in Britain thus far of Schnittke’s musical soul looks promised to emerge. As Martyn Brabbins concludes: “I think the entire line-up looks set to do fantastic justice to a truly major figure, for to my mind the music of Alfred Schnittke just seizes the imagination and holds it, and won’t easily let go.”

  • Barbican Hall, Friday 12 January to Sunday 14 January – Boris Berman kicks off the Schnittke Festival with Piano Sonatas 1 & 2 at 6 o’clock, then Martyn Brabbins conducts the extraordinary First Symphony in the BBCSO’s first concert at 7.30. The other BBCSO concerts are on Saturday (Eri Klas conducting the Eighth Symphony) and Sunday (Leonard Slatkin leading the Third) – both at 8 o’clock. The BBC Philharmonic and Vassily Sinaisky combine two of Schnittke’s finest pieces – Cello Concerto No.2 and Concerto Grosso 4/Symphony 5 – with Torleif Thedeen as soloist on Sunday at 4.30

  • The world premiere of Fragment, under Martyn Brabbins, comes in the Sinfonietta’s Saturday afternoon concert, which starts at 1 o’clock

  • In addition there are talks, films and concerts of choral and chamber music in both the Barbican Hall and nearby St Giles, Cripplegate

  • Ring the Barbican Box Office on 020 7638 8891 for details of weekend passes

  • All concerts will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, most of them live, while some will be recorded for deferred relay or future broadcast

Doing it in Styles Read More »

Sibelius’s Echo

Written by: Colin Anderson

An interview with Jukka-Pekka Saraste on Kaiku: A celebration of Finnish music and film – 11-13 June, Barbican Hall and Cinemas, St Giles, and LSO St Luke’s.

This weekend brings a welcome opportunity to sample Finnish music beyond Sibelius – Kaiku: A Celebration of Finnish music and film. The film ranges from comedy to love-story. Kaiku is the Finnish for echo. “The idea is to show what happened after Sibelius’s time. Some composers have worked really hard to make a career after him. I don’t want to question at all Sibelius’s importance or genius, though it’s strange that a young culture could produce such a giant at the beginning.”

Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in two of six concerts he’s masterminded. Finnish music: melancholic, objective and internal? “It’s been influenced by many directions including Eastern, although Finnish composers wanted to look more to central Europe. Finnish culture is on the dividing line between East and West. That conflict creates a lot of inspiration and has produced cultural independence.” And alliance to nature? “Certainly Finnish music doesn’t have the hectic pulse of urban life. The stress element is not as in older cultures.”

Six concerts in two days (not forgetting films and talks, and more films on Sunday) represent Saraste’s “subjective choice to widen the understanding of Finnish music. I’ve put many influential things in Finnish music together, to make aware the music’s variety and what is now happening. There are pieces from the twenties and thirties probably never heard in the UK.” Among these is Väinö Raitio’s Fantasia poetica, an example of Finnish impressionism. Like Ravel and Debussy? “And you have to mention Scriabin; we feel the East and West directions again.”

Kimmo Hakola’s large-scale Piano Concerto features Nicolas Hodges. “It’s a big thing to do it in London. After the first performance in 1996 I don’t think it’s been heard again. I remember the surprise of the premiere; it’s a totally independent work that has opened the way to future composition in Finland. It’s completely mesmerising.”

One of Finland’s foremost chamber groups, Avanti!, includes music by the progressive Aarre Merikanto who died in 1958. “He admired the structural German way of composing. His greatest work is the opera Juha.” His ‘Schott’ Concerto will be heard, which won that publisher’s prize. “That was a big thing for him; proof that a musical talent of great calibre was living in Finland. But it was too late, he’d lost his faith and he had alcohol and drug problems.”

Kaiku’s music-side concludes with Sibelius’s great Symphony No.7. Does its placing here point back? “The other way round. What he left in the Seventh Symphony opened up the future of Finnish music, inspiring rather than restricting. There’s a source of possibility in it that many composers come back to.” There’s also the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Oltra Mar, which is “extremely powerful, the deep, dark orchestra and choral sounds are very effective.”

The weekend begins on Friday with a 4.30 talk. Then, at St Giles Cripplegate (string quartets there Saturday morning), Tuija Hakkila’s piano recital includes Erik Bergman, now 92. “He’s the grand old man of Finnish modernism; everybody goes back to Bergman to widen their range.” And Friday late is Finnish tango! “It’s a mirror to the Finnish soul. The sad words related to tangos truly describe Finnish melancholy; together with the exciting tango pulse it’s a truly fascinating thing, a very strange phenomenon.” Saraste laughs. “I’m getting really excited about it!”

Sibelius’s Echo Read More »

Skip to content