Symphony No.3 in C, Op.52
Violin Concerto in G, K216
Symphony No.6 (Sinfonia semplice)
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 31 October, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Sibelius remarked, “To my mind a Mozart allegro is the most perfect model for a symphonic movement.” It was entirely apt, therefore, to have Sibelius’s Third Symphony followed by a Mozart allegro, the first movement of his G major Violin Concerto. And no work from the first decade of the 20th-century more epitomises Busoni’s contemporary advocacy for the concept of “Young Classicism”, a move away from programmatic tendencies in favour of the absolute music of the Baroque and Classical periods, than the Third Symphony of Sibelius, which was completed in 1907.
It has generally been an underrated work. It takes a special conductor to thoroughly display this work’s beauties and manifest greatness. One such is Osmo Vänskä. He does this through two ideals: having the quieter music played really softly, nearly inaudibly and by accentuating details in the score that are often overlooked. These two qualities could be heard concurrently in the mysterious opening of the development section in the first movement and in the divided cello writing in the middle movement. Born out of despair on the death of his third daughter and using sketches from a subsequent aborted oratorio, the creative impulse behind the Third Symphony has a religious glow that is heard in the various chorale-like passages in each movement, all of which culminate in a sense of spiritual resurrection at the end of the tumultuous finale. It is the ability to generate spirituality throughout this magical score that enhances its claims to greatness. This is precisely Vänskä’s gift.
Mozart’s G major Violin Concerto, with the deft if sometimes overhasty Christian Tetzlaff, followed Sibelius in a continuation of light, buoyant textures in which every note was heard clearly. If Sibelius sounded resolute and refined, Mozart was joyful and utterly beguiling. Apart from allowing the short notes in the first movement to sometimes disappear, Tetzlaff glided beautifully through the slow one and into the courtly dances of the finale.
Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony was bound to come as a shock after the sophistication of the music in the concert’s first half. There is nothing ‘simple’ about this work although it opens with the best of such intentions. However simplicity quickly slips into complexity and nothing is ever the same in any of the four movements. It is difficult to confer greatness on this, the last of his wonderful six symphonies, in a way that can be granted to its two predecessors. However it is Nielsen’s most forward-looking and therefore most important work. His treatment of the musical material clearly predicts similar occurrences in the writing of Shostakovich, Bartόk and Britten. Vänskä and the LPO, in superb form throughout the concert, did not spare the horses in revealing the many and various facets in this work. Adopting swift tempos throughout, the music hit home in a most unnerving manner; a remarkable work received a remarkable performance.