I did not get to hear any live performances of Sibelius during my recent visit to Finland. No problem: the Finns are always welcome in Vienna. Tonight, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra was back in town at the Konzerthaus (I’ve heard them before, and indeed when trying to decide where to visit in Finland outside Helsinki, I even looked to see if they were performing in Lahti to go hear them there; they were not, so I went elsewhere).
This is a leading Sibelius orchestra, and the programming did not disappoint. The concert opened with the Overture to the Historic Scenes (a series of tone poems not often performed these days), played in a very joyful manner under the lilting baton of new music director Okko Kamu. Unfortunately, they only performed the overture, which ended abruptly leaving me (at least) wishing they would play the rest of the scenes.
Violinist (and apparently also violist and cellist) Sergey Malov, a young St. Petersburger, then came on to perform the Tschaikowsky Violin Concerto. In addition to playing three instruments at a high level, Malov has a large repertory, ranging from early music to modern, and his versatile technique and impressively full tone testified to the possibilities. Sadly, although full, his tone remained small even as the music swelled. Kamu and Malov made the opening of the first movement sound Mozartian (which worked, not surprisingly, since Mozart was Tschaikowsky’s favorite composer). But the music soon moved into more a Romantic-period size, and whereas the orchestra crescendoed, Malov did not seem able and his line got lost. After the first movement, he and Kamu had a quick word, and Kamu clearly modulated for the second and third movement, heavily restraining the orchestra. While sounding good musically, this boxed the music in unnaturally. I would gladly hear Malov again, but for Mozart or chamber music, not for any big concerti from the romantic period. Happily, he treated us to some solos as encores, which highlighted his great and diverse talents.
After the intermission came the Second Symphony of Sibelius in an idiomatic reading expected from Lahti. Oddly, the winds came in somewhat ragged now and then – this symphony is probably one of their main staples, and they should know it by heart without missing entrances. By the final movement, they had gotten themselves organized, and we were treated to what I can only describe as a Viennese interpretation. Sibelius and Mahler shared a common favorite living composer during their student years: Anton Bruckner, whose music had great influence on both of their symphonic outputs, albeit they followed different routes. Tonight, however, the Lahti Symphony accentuated the broad chorales that Sibelius took from Bruckner, and gave us a final movement that glistened, sounding very much the cousin of the final movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony.