Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20
Kom nu hit, död, Op.60/1; Pä veranden vi havet, Op.38/2; Koskenlaskijan morsiamet, Op.33
Belshazzar’s Feast – Suite, Op.51
Gerald Finley (baritone)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 10 December, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
What had been played before the Walton remained to overshadow it. The Britten (the BBCSO only played it a few months ago at the Proms) exploded into life, the ‘Lacrymosa’ brooding while being veiled in its sound and expression, the saxophone sorrowful (curiously Martin Robertson was a little subdued in the Walton), the music rising again to naked aggression; the ‘Dies irae’ combined fury and pristine particulars, the kaleidoscopic ricocheting denouement well-engineered; and the catharsis of the ‘Requiem aeternam’ was powerful in clearing the way for radiant acceptance to complete a notably unified and absorbing performance.
In three of Sibelius’s songs with orchestra (which he scored from the original skeletal accompaniments – not always the case), Gerald Finley made himself a tough act to follow. He was superb! Eloquent and resigned in ‘Come away, death’ (Shakespeare translated into Swedish); desperate in ‘On a Balcony Beside the Sea’ (text by Viktor Rydberg, a Swedish national) enhanced by dark and suggestive woodwinds; and vocally wonderful in ‘The Rapids-Rider’s Brides’, an extended (10-minute) setting, now in Sibelius’s native Finnish language, full of water and wave imagery, and militaristic suggestion. Finley’s impeccable enunciation, charismatic vocal beauty and vibrant story-telling were enhanced by Gardner’s considerate and no-less-penetrating conducting. Sibelius’s vignettes for Belshazzar’s Feast also benefitted from Gardner’s Sibelian empathy (he led a memorable Night Ride and Sunrise at the Proms a few years ago). Like all great composers, even when not firing on all cylinders they remain inimitable: so, Sibelian imprint intact, ‘Oriental Procession’ was exactly that and the gentle ‘Khadra’s Dance’ exuded a certain hypnotism, but it was the middle movements that joined the songs in stealing the show – the small band of strings of ‘Solitude’ – solos from viola (Norbert Blume) and cello (Graham Bradshaw) embedded into the exquisite textures, and the starry aura of ‘Nocturne’ featuring a mesmerising flute contribution from Michael Cox.