“If the orchestra had been playing this piece as an exam they would have got 100%.”
A decade ago my wife treated me to a weekend in Vienna, and thoughtfully procured tickets for the Sunday morning concert at the Musikverein. I remember musicians of the highest calibre drawn from the Vienna Philharmonic playing easy on the ear classics supremely well, and afterwards watching the respectable citizens of that city go off to the Imperial Hotel for lunch. It could have been straight out of Luis Bunuel’s 1972 classic Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie.
Edinburgh offers the same kind of thing but with the concert in the afternoon, and with musicians sourced from all over the world. The combination of well-known works played by orchestras from exotic places, the audience having lunched well, provides an attractive draw, although I am afraid post prandial snoring was evident in one or two places, and the informal dress code disgraced the locals compared to the Viennese, or the smartly turned out Japanese cohort present.
In addition to providing two works of easy familiarity, Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s Second Symphony, to their great credit and wisdom the band presented two accessible lesser known works, Rautavaara’s In the Beginning (referencing conductor Petari Inkinen’s Finnish nationality) and Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, for the Japanese. Both works held their own in terms of seriousness, if not length, compared to the masterpieces.
Einojuhani Rautavaara’s In the Beginning, written as recently as 2015, his final work before his death in 2016, was very much in the Finnish idiom, plenty of close harmony and skilful orchestration of brass. Enjoyable, not too austere, it showcased the orchestra’s talent across the entire instrumental bandwith in just seven minutes; a strong beginning.
Just as I am puzzled by the number of recordings available of well-known works so I find it hard to write something new about them when often performed. All one can really write about is the interpretation. It is perhaps helpful that I heard Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 just a month ago in the same hall with young Turkish pianist Can Cakmur with the RSNO. The 21 year old Turk found new life in the piece and tore the opening phrases off the piano in the opening Allegro con brio, and gently coaxed the scales in the Largo. The 75 year old Lill was more measured, and played an exemplary, much more classic interpretation that I expect hadn’t changed much in fifty years. It found great favour amongst the many septua/octogenarians present, and was immaculate, considered, uber competent, but as if classical musical interpretation had stood still since the great recordings of the sixties and seventies under the baton of the likes of von Karajan and Klemperer.
Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings (1975) was a piece one could easily have mistaken for being of Western provenance, (the composer having been influenced by Western music for most of his life) and while I cannot agree with the comparison some make with Barber’s Adagio for Strings , the piece in my view being more reminiscent of Michael Tippett, it was a restful, well orchestrated example of the post war idiom, written but ten years after Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings. Accessible, interesting and drawing one in, it faded into a beautiful ethereal ending. The orchestra’s playing of their home piece was superb.
What to say of the finale, Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 in D minor, other than it is a glorious work and I don’t care how many times I listen to it? The discipline, technique and intensely classical style of the orchestra ensured that we got a rendition that was free from schmaltz and true to the composer’s intentions. It was a masterly performance, under the now obviously very talented baton of compatriot Finn Intiken, who drew everything out of the score from double bass, percussion and tubas to soaring strings, blaring brass and exquisite woodwind, notably the oboist. If the orchestra had been playing this piece as an exam they would have got 100%.
It is a tribute to the Japan Philharmonic’s stamina that after this bravura rendition we were treated to seven minutes of peaceful wind down therapy with a beautifully played seven minutes of Sibelius’s Valse Triste as an encore.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 14 April)
Go to the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
Visit Edinburgh49 at its Usher Hall archive.