Die Meistersinger Prelude to Act One
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39
Thomas Gould (violin)
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 11 October, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
The omens were not good for the success of this concert, with a lethargic opening to Wagner’s Prelude. This great edifice of sound needs a galvanising hand on the podium to launch its grandiloquent sweep, but Mark Forkgen seemed content to let the orchestra merely play the notes – albeit in a natural, unforced way. Only near the end did a firm beat generate the necessary tingle factor.
The Tchaikovsky concerto fared little better thanks to Thomas Gould’s slowing down in critical sections of the first movement, which robbed the music of its visceral excitement. Indeed, the moderate tempo here might have led the casual listener to observe a distinct lack of virtuosity on the part of the soloist, but the finale sped along well enough, despite a lack of individuality in the playing. The gorgeous slow movement was played straight with a lovely hushed tone. But the whole was too diffuse to make an impression.
By the time Sibelius came to write his first ‘abstract’ symphony (having written two earlier programmatic symphonies), he was something of a veteran in composing for orchestral forces. In this period he produced an astonishingly individual soundworld that remains unique. Later he refined his musical vocabulary, but the period leading to the First Symphony remains one yielding an abundant production of works imbued with a nationalist sweep of warm melodies and substantial sonorities.
Many influences can be heard, most notably Bruckner, Wagner and Tchaikovsky – that at least is the traditional view. But it depends on the conductor’s approach to this magnificent work: if taken at a moderate pace, with plenty of time for generous phrasing, the Russian debt is apparent; if taken with faster than usual tempos, something more recognisably Finnish comes to the fore due to the clipped passion that often lies behind the notes.
On this occasion Forkgen opted for something broad, thereby emphasising the supposed debt to Tchaikovsky. The tempestuous undertow in the first movement was very much played down; the slow movement lacked contrast between the dreamy opening and the much more animated middle section; the scherzo was so slow it threatened to grind to a halt in the trio; and the finale lacked a sense of epic grandeur due to the conductor taking too cautious an approach.