Kuolema, Op.44 – I: Valse triste
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Esther Yoo (violin)
Reviewed by: Gregor Tassie
Reviewed: 8 November, 2015
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Few works can display the quality of an orchestra’s strings than ‘Valse triste’ from Sibelius’s incidental music to Järnefelt’s play Kuolema (Death). The Philharmonia brought out all the tenderness and poignancy of this music with the flute of Samuel Coles introducing temporary lightness.
For Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, 21-year-old Esther Yoo at once ensured that the opening solo rang out and there was a wonderful affinity between her and Vladimir Ashkenazy. An important feature of Yoo’s playing is that she listens attentively to the orchestra and there was a fine contribution from clarinettist Mark van de Wiel and the admirable double basses prompted a threatening darkness. Ashkenazy appreciates the symphonic line of this Concerto and Yoo produced a big sound from her Stradivarius and here invoked a heroic aspect in this music, and she was technically brilliant. Ashkenazy conjured an opulent sound from the Philharmonia while also allowing Yoo to be heard, and the bouncing rhythms of the Finale found violin and timpani in perfect harmony.
Now retired from playing the piano in public, Vladimir Ashkenazy was perhaps the greatest interpreter of Rachmaninov’s repertoire, and this intimate knowledge into the composer’s psyche has allowed him a firm grasp of the orchestral music.
In the popular Second Symphony Ashkenazy made a British orchestra sound like a Russian one – I think even the St Petersburg Philharmonic would find it hard to match this superlative performance. At the opening of the Symphony, the ominous theme which emerged from the double basses proved seductive, and there was a glorious wealth of tone from the violins – such gorgeous sensitivity – and the orchestra as a whole was justly brash and with dramatically incisive rhythms. In the Adagio, Mark van de Wiel was again exemplary in his eloquence with the heart-stopping theme, and the warmth of the strings was striking. The strength of the brass was revealed in the dramatic exultation of the Finale, Ashkenazy – always a servant of the composer – produced from his musicians a shattering build-up of tension and ultimately an exultant finish. The standard of this tremendous concert sets an impeccably high standard that will be difficult to match in future Edinburgh concerts.