Noēsis, Concerto for Violin, Clarinet and Orchestra [Detroit Symphony Orchestra & Philharmonia Orchestra co-commission: European premiere]
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Isabelle van Keulen (violin) & Michael Collins (clarinet)
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 5 February, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
This concert included a European premiere by one of the most exciting and highly regarded contemporary composers, the Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür (born 1959).
The husband and wife team of Isabelle van Keulen and Michael Collins worked hard for their status as co-dedicatees of a work that keeps them busy throughout. Scored for a Beethoven-sized orchestra with added percussion the overall model for Tüür seems to be Vivaldi in the delight of melody and rhythm living side by side in delightful harmony. Cast in three continuous movements this work contains many memorable ideas and is, in the outer movements, packed with energy and a kind of momentum that many living composers find so hard to achieve. Somewhat pretentious in its aims (“Noēsis – the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning”, to quote the composer), the listener delights in its intrinsic musical interest where the two soloists are often playing together and sometimes going their separate ways. Rather like married life really!
This fine new work was sandwiched between Sibelius and Rachmaninov. Was it ever different with the Philharmonia’s programme-planners: these two composers have been coupled ever since Lorin Maazel’s Sibelius symphony cycle in the 1970s. Whether the different merits of Tapiola or Rachmaninov’s symphony were heard to best advantage in the reduced space of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with its compression of tonal allure, is questionable.
Sibelius did not know Tapiola was to be his last major composition (he worked on his Eighth Symphony for many years afterwards) but, in hindsight, it is a marvellous manifestation of organic growth and concentration of his musical ideas. Putting to one side the normal associations of the Nordic landscape, Tapiola contains, in under twenty minutes, significant signposts for the future of musical expression that have grown stronger in the minds of composers over the decades since Tapiola was premiered in New York. Sibelius’s technique in the use of his classically-sized orchestra involves multi-layered textures and differing tempos performed simultaneously. His adoption of such subtle innovations allows for major emotional contrasts that make Tapiola an overwhelming experience in the concert hall.
Paavo Järvi produced a performance of great feeling and grandeur with a careful ear for the ever-changing sonorities in this work. The final quiet bars came as balm after the trials and tribulations that occur, and the held silence at the end was eloquent testimony to the spell the conductor had over his players who responded with great care and passion to what remains an infrequently performed masterpiece.
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony came as a welcome contrast to the rigours of the first half. This large-scale romantic work revels in lush melodies and surging emotions of the type that makes this Russian composer so popular. Given the acoustic, it was perhaps a merciful release not to be given the exposition repeat, and Järvi’s many expressive ideas passed by despite the untiring efforts of the orchestra, its members so familiar with this music. The evening, nevertheless, ended in a blaze of glory.
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