Philharmonia Segerstam

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Leif Segerstam

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 2 November, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The Philharmonia rehearsed Mahler’s Second on Saturday to perform it Monday and Tuesday – and took ’time off’ to play Sibelius and Grieg on Sunday afternoon with a Finnish conductor, 60 next year, visiting London fleetingly. Are these betting odds for music-making we’ll remember for the rest of our lives?

Indeed, the concerto was forgettable. To rapturous acclaim, Jean-Yves Thibaudet supplied a meticulous inventory of the notes Grieg allocated to the piano. With nimble fingers, he picked from time to time at being a mite more Byronic – with, alas, no reward. His fingers were neither heartfelt nor elegiac. They didn’t dance.

During piano solos, Segerstam swivelled to his left gazing at the pianist calmly, impassively and professionally. What went through his mind? (I recalled his magical recording of Grieg’s concerto with Roland Pöntinen.)

Segerstam, this greyish-white bearded giant of a man, who dresses in white, lumbers amongst us – mythological, archetypal. In one of his life roles, he is a master musician – as the Philharmonia’s acclaim attested.

At the conclusion of the Sibelius symphony, he thrust both arms into the air – in jubilant, triumphant energy. He then bowed from his humble neck, with right-hand pressed modestly against the heart, after which he devotionally yet emphatically kissed the hands of both the principal violinist and her neighbour.

Segerstam has no peer as a Sibelius conductor.

The renown of Finlandia derives chiefly from the amount of noise people can make while performing it. (The same goes for Jerusalem.) Segerstam offered us music. Magisterially, the Philharmonia did likewise. During the opening bars the brass struck fear: some dark Finnish beast (from the Kalevala?) was slouching towards St Petersburg to be born. The climaxes astounded and enraptured, every time – Segerstam’s tension-building was masterly. So was his relaxation. At one point, with the strings in rural repose, I glimpsed how Segerstam’s Vaughan Williams would reveal a vital, shimmering transcendence. There were fleeting moments of wry wit too – Sibelius, that very private man, producing something impressive, grandiloquent, majestic and bombastic to order, saying in an undertone: “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”

There was the mark of greatness on this performance. The Fifth Symphony showed the same strengths – resplendently.

The Philharmonia switched from one Sibelius idiom to another – the burnished brass, the woodwinds’ delicate scampering, the massed strings’ surging, the gravitation and sheen of their descents, earthy tremors from the basses’ plucking.

I could go on … I mention three wonders more: the masterly handling of the bridge passage in the Moderato, the unemphasised yet heart-rending vulnerability of the woodwind in the Andante, and the sublime counterpoint of quietly earthen strings against the resolute upward progressing of the brass in the Allegro molto.

I was there! I heard these wonders live!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content