En Saga, Op.9
Violin Concerto in B minor [UK premiere]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 13 April, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Nothing illustrates more graphically the distance travelled by the BBC Symphony Orchestra over the past forty years than this performance of the Violin Concerto by the late-Romantic Lithuanian composer, Balys Dvarionas (1904-1972). This tuneful, charming, well-wrought work would not have been given house room (let alone a performance!) by the regime in charge all that time ago.
Whether the change is all to the good is another matter. Dvarionas’s concerto was written in 1948 and was only now being played in the UK. It falls neatly into the style of those ‘Hollywood’ violin concertos commissioned by Jascha Heifetz and also approaches contemporaneous works written by second-rank Soviet composers. There is nothing much to test the intellect. Rather it provides abundant opportunities for the soloist to sparkle and shine. Vadim Gluzman displayed his immaculate prowess like a proud jeweller cutting a diamond of outstanding quality. An encore – ‘Preludio’ from J. S. Bach’s Partita in E – was ruined by a persistent cougher.
The Dvarionas together with Sibelius-tribute pieces by Einar Englund and Erkki-Sven Tüür were the suggestions of the indisposed conductor, Neeme Järvi. Sibelius’s En Saga was the replacement work and Järvi’s replacement was Thomas Søndergård, soon to become Principal Conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales. En Saga has one of the most original openings of any orchestral work. Given its late addition to the concert it was a shame that the new published edition (by Breitkopf & Härtel) of the first version was not aired instead of the Busoni-inspired revision of 1902. It was, after all, preferred by Sibelius’s wife, Aino! Never mind. In either form it is an astonishingly inspired and forward-looking work. Søndergård conjured up magical sonorities. With En Saga Sibelius announced a new voice in music that developed and progressed.
The Second Symphony continued this quest for self expression. The BBCSO had made some slips in the first half, but the symphony galvanised the players under the strong, forthright manner of Søndergård, who was observant of most of the nuances in this majestic score. An earlier generation of conductors such as Robert Kajanus and Armas Jarnefelt took an altogether wilder view of this music, faster all round and with much more freedom in expression. Neeme Järvi is the living embodiment of this earlier style and his absence was regretted but Søndergård seemed to understand the basic elements of turbulence, anxiety and redemption. By the time the final peroration came the audience had been put through the wringer of emotions. Sibelius (at this time of his career anyway), like Tchaikovsky, was able to refine emotional wounds into wonderful sounds that the final impression is one of salvation. And we all want to be saved!