Grieg, Mozart, Rossini, Þorvaldsdóttir, Sibelius
Yesterday evening, the first snow of the year fell in Salzburg. This evening, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra arrived in the Great Festival House. Coincidence?
The concert included mostly Nordic music, for which this orchestra obviously has a natural affinity. Their overall tone came off a bit thin for a full-sized orchestra, mostly an odd lack of undertones which made the icy upper registers sound somehow less full. Under the baton of Daníel Bjarnason, their first guest conductor (they are apparently between music directors at the moment), they also played hesitantly at times – knowing well what they were doing but lacking confidence. They sounded nice overall, but if they had just played more robustly they might have made a bigger impression.
The concert included five excerpts from Edvard Grieg‘s incidental music to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, Aeriality by Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (a moody piece utilizing percussion and double basses to creative effect, which seemed to be building to some sort of climax, but just as it almost erupted into a chorale about ten minutes in decided not to and carried on without resolution for another five minutes), and the Fifth Symphony of Janne Sibelius (and Sibelius’ Valse Triste as an encore at the end of the concert). After the Grieg and before the intermission, Croatian hornist Radovan Vlatković joined the orchestra for the Horn Concerto #3 by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, which came across as odd among the Nordic surroundings. Vlatković performed fluidly, but had a somewhat cold tone – was he mimicking the Nordic sound, or is his horn just sour? Mozart’s horn music should be much warmer.
As an encore before the intermission, Vlatković and five Icelandic hornists managed a much warmer sound full of good humor: a little piece for horn ensemble by Gioachino Rossini. No conductor for that one meant they played much more confidently. While nothing seemed out of place for Bjarnason, I do wonder if that made the difference.