New York Philharmonic/Sir Colin Davis Radu Lupu

Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Lemminkäinen Legends, Op.22 [Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island; The Swan of Tuonela; Lemminkäinen in Tuonela; Lemminkäinen’s Return]

Radu Lupu (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 31 March, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

The contrasts between music from the Ages of Classicism and Romanticism were evident at this concert with the playing of quite distinct pieces.

Relaxed is the adjective that comes to mind when describing Radu Lupu. The superb Romanian pianist and masterful interpreter of Mozart’s works played his last piano concerto sublimely and effortlessly. This is one of Mozart’s most intimate works. For a lengthy part of the opening movement Lupu leant back almost in a dream-like state his hands seemingly floating over the piano keys, producing music full of color, fluidity, subtly, joy, and passion. In all three movements there was some beautiful dialogue between the piano and the flute and Lupu gracefully played Mozart’s own cadenzas. Sir Colin Davis’s conducting of the small orchestra was light and flexible.

In 1889, Sibelius received a music scholarship to study in Berlin, and then in Vienna. He returned to Finland in 1891, after which he explored the importance of his national heritage. He had grown up speaking Swedish – the language of the Finnish upper-class for more than two centuries – and was not proficient in Finnish until his late teens. In 1891, Finland was a grand duchy of Russia and was ruled by the despotic Tsar Nicholas II.

The Lemminkäinen Legends was born of Sibelius’s patriotism and interest in his country’s mythology. The Finnish epic “The Kalevala” (with its hero Lemminkäinen) inspired him to write several of his best-known works. The second and third movements are often transposed, as was the case here, and they were played with no break between them. The exquisite ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ was conceived as a prelude to an abandoned opera, “The Burning of the Boat”. The four tone poems began with sustained horn-playing that sounded as if a train was passing through the concert hall. The timpani added the element of thunder while the flutes and oboes added flitting sounds of a bird in flight. Many moods were evoked in the first Legend by the crashing of cymbals, the sweet tinkling of the triangle, the increasingly powerful horn crescendos and the buzzing of the strings.

The second piece, ‘The Swan of Tuonela’, is one of Sibelius’s most popular works. The English horn (cor anglais) – actually a double-reed member the oboe family – dominated, the instrument, courtesy of Thomas Stacy, intoning the swan’s song. The third Legend involved muted trumpets, cellos’ sustained sounds, horn blasts, drum rolls, crashing cymbals, and a host of other sounds to enhance one’s emotions. ‘Lemminkäinen’s Return’ made for an ending full of rising expectation sustained by timpani and the majestic sounds of the trumpets – a conclusion of royal proportions.

Sir Colin Davis, another hero of the evening, pulled all the disparate parts of the Legends into an expressive whole that was full of life.

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