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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Concert Review: Flying the Blue Cross

LSO presents Sibelius at Avery Fisher Hall. 
Sir Colin Davis. Photo by Stephanie Berger © London Symphony Orchestra.
On Wednesday night, the London Symphony Orchestra opened their three-night stand at Lincoln Center  with a performance of two Sibelius favorites under the baton of Sir Colin Davis. The Finnish composer has always been one of this conductor's specialties, and Sir Colin has now recorded his seven symphonies twice over--once in Boston for Philips, and once on the LSO's LSO Live label.

Sir Colin is now 84, and moves slowly through the musicians to the adjustable chair on the podium. He conducts the orchestra (of which he remains president) sitting down. But this performance, of the Violin Concerto with Nicolaj Znaider and the Symphony No. 2 made the Avery Fisher Hall crowd stand up and cheer the British band as they played these quintessential Finnish works.

This Violin Concerto is a popular one, one that makes the soloist work on equal terms with orchestra and conductor. It stands at the transitory point between Sibelius' early nationalist works and the pure music that followed. The solo part is written in total cooperation with the orchestra, with the lengthy cadenzas acting as dramatic soliloquies.

Mr. Znaider launched the concerto, then wove a detailed narrative with Mr. Davis. The LSO provided robust support as the violinist weaved in and out of the melodic lines, occasionally pausing so Mr. Znaider could fire off a dazzling cadenza before diving back into the distinctive dotted  rhythm.
The second movement featured a darker, sweeter tone from Mr. Znaider,  through its slow passages, giving way to a warm, burnished sound. The finale whirled at the listener in mad dance over a jogging rhythm that sounded like a very fast Finnish polka. The violinist then asked the audience for the indulgence of an encore, dedicated to Sir Colin Davis. He played the Sarabande from Bach's Second Partita for Solo Violin.

The patriotic Second Symphony remains the most popular of the composer's seven. Sibelius, writing in Romantic and patriotic mode, used the Finnish struggle against Russian rule to paint an aural picture of victory over repression. The woodwinds played with great eloquence in the folk-dancing opening theme, answered by the brass and eventually repeated by the whole orchestra. 

Sir Colin brought grim purpose to the two central movements which depict the preparations for war. The wind solo in the Scherzo was particularly eloquent. The finale became a mighty song of triumph , roaring forth the anticipated Finnish victory over Russia, but also symbolizing man's achievements in the face of any obstacle.

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