Iceland Symphony Orchestra at The Anvil




Piano Concerto No.2 in C-minor, Op.18


Symphony No.5 in E-minor, Op.64

Sir Stephen Hough (piano)

Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Eva Ollikainen

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 28 April, 2023
Venue: The Anvil, Basingstoke, Hampshire

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s appearance at the Anvil completed its seven-concert tour of the UK under its energetic new chief conductor Eva Ollikainen. There was warmth to the strings, a distinctive woodwind timbre and clear-cut brass. The players gave their all, nothing routine, their dedication and responsiveness self-evident.

METACOSMOS (2017) by Anna Thorvaldsdottir opened, for the New York Philharmonic, is inspired by “the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole” and derives its energy from the tensions between beauty and chaos. Unintentionally descriptive, this performance evoked the eruption and collapse of elemental forces, from growling bass sonorities, shimmering woodwind and sustained chord clusters. Its gradual crescendo, with assorted percussion effects, yielded to glowing string textures before an eerie glissando abruptly ended this atmospheric and well-crafted score.

No less convincing was the Rachmaninov with a self-effacing Stephen Hough impressing with his formidable technique. It was a highly credible account, underlining power and playfulness, the declamatory opening bars a prowling gesture, each chord compelling in its accumulating weight. Elsewhere, passagework and sweeping lyricism were crisply articulated with sparkling tone at the top and plenty of ballast below. The slow movement brought a stylish collaboration combining tenderness and scintillation, even if emotional depths remained largely understated. Well-judged tempos ensured a roller coaster journey for the Finale, its bravura apotheosis and an impetuous dash to the finish brilliantly achieved. As an encore, Chopin’s F-sharp Nocturne (Op. 15/2) caught the ear with a fusion of manicured tone and subtlety of phrasing.

The Icelanders had exercised restraint in the Rachmaninov, and found new life for Tchaikovsky. Brim-full of passion, this was one of those life-affirming accounts where fate never had a chance, vanquished in a performance that was as exciting as it was overblown. The opening was brooding and spacious enough and thereafter Ollikainen, seemingly using the podium as her own personal gym, brought a relentlessness to the first two movements. With a clear, but roomy beat, silken string-playing was in short supply and paragraphs in the Andante (notwithstanding a beguiling solo horn) had little sense of culmination, climaxes thrown away. Respite came with a light-on-its-feet waltz, an evocative and flowing traversal that segued with barely a pause into an adrenaline-fuelled Finale. Just a pity its edge of seat excitement pre-empted the triumph of the closing furlong. Nevertheless, this was a super-charged account.

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