Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Concert Review: Concerto for String Orchestra No. 1

Dear Friends,

Apologies for the long delay, as this concert took place on 15.11.2013!

One of the most pleasant surprises which I had shortly after moving to Helsinki was looking at the then just-released Spring 2008 calendar of the Tampere Philharmonic. In January 2008 this orchestra programmed the Symphony No. 7. On the podium was the violinist-conductor Jan Söderblom, somebody I had not heard of before. It was the first time I heard Pettersson live in concert, and it was a memorable performance. As for Söderblom, I made a mental note to check his performance schedule regularly, because more Pettersson could be coming from this source...

More than 5 years later, Söderblom conducted the Tapiola Sinfonietta (an excellent full-time chamber orchestra based in west Helsinki) in a performance of the Concerto for String Orchestra No. 1, the subject of this review. 

As I've probably mentioned before, every time I hear/see Pettersson live in performance I realize just how difficult this music is to play. About a year before this concert, I saw the same piece performed in Berlin, and the difficulties of the music appeared to overwhelm the musicians at times. Having seen the Tapiola Sinfonietta many times over the years, I am thoroughly familiar with their amazing ability and was looking forward to this concert. 

Söderblom led the piece from the concertmaster's chair. The first thing which struck me was the tight ensemble and extra-sharp articulations from the violas, who open the piece with repeated-note stabs. The entrance of the violins, with that motive based on fourths and fifths, came across as being a bit too cautious, instead of the storm of rosin I was hoping for. This was a general impression I had of this movement. 

While the contributions from the first desk players were excellent, in addition to the sense of cautiousness there were several transitional passages in the first movement which could have used a little more rehearsal. 

The second movement went about as well as I could have imagined. The opening "sigh" in e minor was chillingly played, the repeated notes were played with such maniacal insistence that they became almost disturbing, and the broad, quasi-Mahlerian section in Db/C# was extremely effective. 

The final movement went well, but again I felt that there was a certain sense of cautiousness. I'm so used to the final pages being taken relatively slowly, where the music is searching, falling into eb minor. As I've never seen the score, I do not know what tempo indication Pettersson had in mind. In this performance, the final measures went by pretty quickly, similar to Lindberg's take. Since Lindberg does such an incredible job of conducting exactly what  Pettersson writes, I'll assume that Söderblom was doing the same. 

Overall a great performance, and maybe another rehearsal would have made it amazing. 

So, what Pettersson will Söderblom perform next? Hopefully it will be sooner than five years from now...

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