Grieg, Martinsson, Sibelius
Back-to-back concerts today at the Musikverein (they still make you check your coat separately for each concert, though).
First up was the Tonkünstler performing an all-Scandinavian concert under John Storgårds. They opened with Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time. An all-string piece, the Tonkünstler strings produced a very sweet sound with a pleasant lilt. Because four of the five movements actually derived from dances, this interpretation stressed the rhythms quite nicely, providing an extra layer of charm on these miniatures.
“Bridge”- a trumpet concerto by Rolf Martinsson, a contemporary Swedish composer (who may have been in the audience – the trumpeter motioned very clearly to someone during the applause, but that person did not stand up or bow) followed. I have not decided if I liked the piece or not, but at least the composer had something intelligent to say. Martinsson seemed unsure if he intended to be post-romantic or post-atonal, alternating between the styles, but he did clearly intend to put in place a foundation to allow the trumpeter to be a virtuoso. He had indicated that so few trumpet concerti had been written in the last couple of centuries because of the nature of the instrument and the developments in music, and therefore he intended to provide a modern piece that would work for virtuoso trumpet. In this he succeeded, with the help of trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger (for whom he originally wrote the piece in 1998). Hardenberger had a bright and clear tone, and the skill to jump around the range. In general, the orchestra would set a post-romantic mood, and then interrupt it with some atonality (or mild tonality), where the trumpet would jump in. Perhaps the one section that did not work was when the score called for the solo trumpet to be muted, as dampening the sound of the solo instrument defeated some of the purpose of a trumpet concerto. On the whole, however, I am always glad to hear intelligent modern music that still qualifies as music.
After the intermission, Storgårds treated us to an unusual interpretation of Sibelius’ Second Symphony. At first, I did not understand what he was trying to achieve, but it slowly grew on me. Having heard the strings sounding so sweet for the Grieg at the start of the concert, I was initially concerned when they opened the Sibelius sounding bitter. The winds entered, also not sounding completely smooth. But Storgårds plugged away at a deliberate slow pace, and the tonalities emerged. The strings provided the base mood, upon which the wind instruments could construct their chorales. This was a little bit of Bruckner – Sibelius’ favorite living composer when he studied in Vienna – emerging. As the symphony went on, the emotion grew, right up to the final drawn-out chorale. A successful performance of Sibelius must come across cold and dark, so that the listener considers drowning himself in the nearest frozen lake, but does not actually commit suicide because of the realization that, once dead, he will never again be able to hear the music of Sibelius. I’d say Storgårds accomplished that feeling for this audience.