LSSO Segerstam

Sibelius
Luonnotar
Segerstam
Symphony No.113 [World Premiere]
Nielsen
Symphony No.4 (Inextinguishable)

Riikka Hakola (soprano)

London Schools Symphony Orchestra
Leif Segerstam


Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 5 April, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The musical schoolchildren who make up the LSSO are getting to know Sibelius not only as the composer of Finlandia, heard at this concert as an encore, but as also the creator of the world through his epic though short tone poem for soprano and orchestra, Luonnotar, translated as ‘The Spirit of the Air’. This tribute to Mother Nature was, premiered in Gloucester in 1913 at the Three Choirs Festival and it made a fitting continuation to this orchestra’s performance of Sibelius from last September in this same hall when a performance of “The Minpins” was sold out. This was an arrangement of the Roald Dahl story with music by Sibelius, mainly rarely-played theatre music but including the composer’s last, and in many ways definitive work, Tapiola.

Luonnotar is an amazing work, described recently as containing more music than in a Mahler symphony. (You can check this out at the LSSO’s next concert when Mahler’s First Symphony is played!). Concise, imaginative and from another world in terms of sound, utterly original and standing outside the mainstream, it shows Sibelius at full stretch in terms of defining a new orchestral sonority. At this performance it was sung in magisterial form by the young, highly articulate Finnish soprano, Riikka Hakola.

After this exciting sound the one conjured by our maestro for the evening came as a shock. Not his most recent symphony (he has reached 123 apparently), it displays his preference for performances without conductor. Hence Segerstam sat at the piano and intoned a steady stream of chords as if to keep the players on track for nearly half an hour. How this was achieved with such a young orchestra was a miracle of musicianship and much appreciated by the audience. As for the music it seemed to relate to Nature, basically a landscape of unchanging sight but with elements that move above and “pulsate” (to use the composer’s description). Non-melodic, it inhabits a rather weary countenance: good to return to a world as conjured by Carl Nielsen in his magisterial ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony.

Segerstam gave a wonderful performance, free of any bombast that can disfigure the spirit of the work. It was shaped eloquently and with purpose and played with tremendous verve by the LSSO. In a week when the world’s leaders seem to attach their own agendas to the Pope’s achievements it was refreshing to hear such honesty by both composer and conductor in tackling fundamental issues in life’s rich seam of tribulation and salvation. Nielsen wrote “Music is life, and as such, is inextinguishable”.

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