BBCSO Concert – 23 November

Tapiola, Op.112
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, Op.107
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Truls Mørk (cello)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 November, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Despite a number of successful visits to the Proms with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä was here making his first London appearance with a London-based orchestra. It proved to be auspicious.

Vänskä being probably the leading interpreter of Sibelius today, it was good to have this composer represented – though Tapiola is all but impossible to programme meaningfully. His swift, though never rushed approach evoked the sensation of vast spaces and conflicts – more psychological than descriptive – at work in this masterpiece, with the playing of the BBCSO a reminder of the Sibelius reputation this orchestra enjoyed for much of the last century.

Shostakovich can make an admirable foil to Sibelius, the First Cello Concerto a case in point. Having recorded both concertos and the sonata, Truls Mørk has a reputation second to none in this music, though the present performance suggested he may be marginally less attuned to the first concerto than the second – witness his memorable performance of the latter with Christoph Eschenbach in this very hall last spring. The inner movements had gravitas without lethargy, the rapport between soloist and conductor in the ’Moderato’ matched by Mørk’s adept building of tension in the long cadenza – though, for all their vital energy, the outer movements lacked the degree of irony necessary to convey the barbed emotion of the work as a whole.

Märchenbild (Fairytale Poem) is a relatively early (1971) piece by Sofia Gubaidulina, drawn from her music for a children’s radio story about a piece of chalk’s desire to draw meaningful images, and the belated fulfilment of its wish. Very 1960s East European (as anyone who remembers BBC2’s ’Film International’ seasons will appreciate), and a beautifully restrained and subtle score from a composer nowadays associated with musical canvasses of an intensely spiritual nature.

The concert ended with a symphony clearly close to Vänskä’s heart. His account of Beethoven Seven was a highlight of the 1998 Proms (and worth searching out on BBCP 1005-2), and if the BBCSO proved marginally less pliable to his requirements than his Glasgow orchestra, this was still a reading of vast rhythmic energy and forward momentum. Vänskä was as sensitive to the pathos and tenderness of this music as to the cumulative motion that the outer movements possess to a degree still astonishing today.

It is rare these days for a Beethoven symphony to receive a standing ovation. Vänskä’s performance secured one, and justifiably so. Hopefully his becoming Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003 will not see the end of his role in UK concert life. We should be much the poorer for his absence.

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