“A Melodious Maiden”
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra offered a diverse programme of Nordic delight at their recent gig at the Queen’s Hall.
First off was the world premiere of Verdigris by Finnish composer Lotta Wennakoski. This was an arresting work; the astonishing opening pianissimo glissandi giving way to scary strings with woodwind interjections in a whole that was hard to reconcile with its claimed Sibelian, En Saga and Andante Festivo influences. Unmelodic with little in the way of harmony, it reminded one of a twisted Nordic Noir one might see on BBC4. Unfortunately, the coda was as unexpected as it was ineffective.
Denmark came next with one of the most full throated, committed renditions of Nielsen’s Violin Concerto I have had the pleasure of hearing. Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisti took complete command of the work and gave an electric performance including not one, but two virtuoso cadenzas. Warm, well balanced sound between soloist and orchestra with french horns skilfully intervening between strings and soloist. This was a thoroughly assured, well crafted performance in which the tension built irrevocably into a pulsating climax that brought prolonged and deserved applause from a grateful audience. Kuusisti’s easy personal style built a popular rapport, and the two polkas he played by way of encore were a treat.
The second part of the programme was an ingenious piece of musical craftsmanship by conductor Tuomas Hannikainen. Sibelius’s one published opera, The Maiden in the Tower, has a feeble plot and a poor libretto. It also contains some of the most glorious, melodic passages the composer has ever written, all in the space of less than three quarters of an hour. Hannikainen cleverly reorchestrated the work as an orchestral suite. So often this doesn’t really work, but in this case it really did. We started with a bright, colourful overture in almost Hollywood style, a glorious romp, even Operetta, which morphed into something more akin to the great Finn’s gorgeous and melodic house style. If the brass had it in the Nielsen, the strings came into their own in this work, with a breathtaking idyll played by the flute, answered by urgent, plangent cellos. Hannikainen has created a work of real integrity that deserves committing to recording.
We had a wonderful joyride through the best of Finnish music, and the huge smiles and embraces amongst the band showed that they had too. Bravo!
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 29 October)
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