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Nordic Mythos and Majesty at the BSO – Lyric Say

Composer Outi Tarkiainen with John Storgårds (Michael J. Lutch picture)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first “Music of the Midnight Sun” cycle concluded this previous Saturday. Religious concertgoers braved the rain to catch sonic glimpses of Nordic mythos and majesty. Although the cycle title units nature as the first theme, the night of debuts yielded rather more in the best way of nice musical storytelling, virtuosity, selection, and good programmatic building. This live performance of novelties provided us two premieres: Outi Tarkiainen’s Midnight Solar Variations and Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, a violin soloist debut (Pekka Kuusisto), and two hardly ever heard Sibelius tone poems (The Oceanides and The Bard) joined the seminal Tapiola. This feast for the senses and thoughts proved to be exceptionally memorable.  

Midnight Solar Variations opened in a whirl of kaleidoscopic results; downward and upward cascades of notes from the woodwinds, accompanied by the hazy lull of microtones and false harmonics within the strings. Above this background, the clarinet illuminated the primordial scene in a Bartók-like melody. One can’t assist however evaluate Tarkiainen’s Variations with Strauss’s Alpensinfonie or Zarathustra; the latter depict dawn as an express crescendo, whereas the Midnight Solar provides an clever realism to the passage of time in naturalistic contemplation. The orchestral results of every variation illustrated the gradual shifts in unceasing midsummer mild. The hairpin (<>) form of the work constructed to a singular climax, one harkened by staggered brass entrances, glissandi, and timpani strikes, earlier than relenting in a Sibelius-like lyrical lament from the strings. Slipping away as light rays of northerly daylight, trills from visitor concertmaster Robyn Bollinger spun in distinction to the consonant chords that concluded the soundscape. John Storgårds helmed the BSO with knowledgeable ease, shaping and balancing the difficult rating forward of the beat.

Nielsen’s uncommon 1911 Violin Concerto served because the platform for violinist Pekka Kuusisto’s playful and compelling virtuosic storytelling. It comes as no shock that Nielsen’s concerto had by no means been performed in Boston. The concerto is technically thorny, thematically shifting, and atypical in lots of respects for a concerto of the early 20th century. We skilled an ideal symbiosis of opus, soloist, and conductor.

The primary of the 2 actions opened with a declamatory minor chord, hurling the soloist straight into battle with a pedal-point cadenza. Seemingly limitless held tones within the horns offered the background (staggered respiration?). Kuusisto meandered above with ease, fascinating instantly with a sheen of sonority together with seldom seen bow vibrato. Delivered to a mild touchdown within the pastoral Largo part, passages of virtuosic ardour finally subsided to a different denouement paying homage to Elgar’s Nimrod. A direct transition to the Allegro cavallarésco provided an adventurous counterpoint in materials strikingly much like Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. Stability was completely arbitrated between Storgårds and Kuusisto, little doubt because of each Nielsen’s orchestration and the compulsory particular listening required by the BSO in enjoying a brand new (previous) work.

Kuusisto’s capricious character shape-shifted each side of the outing with an ease of virtuosity hardly ever seen in motion. The violin served merely as a medium for expression; each line and articulation brimmed with elasticity as this nice storyteller spun his tales. Applause greeted the primary motion’s conclusion eliciting a wry comment from Kuusisto: “Should we stop?”

The elegiac temper of the second motion’s opening Adagio drifted away, solely abated by the comically performed, jazzy minor seventh by Kuusisto previous the Rondo part. Extra humor from soloist and orchestra delighted throughout an inverted (and devilishly tough) entrance of the rondo theme. The minore part taken senza vibrato added a very sardonic distinction, all earlier than the ultimate cadenza of the concerto: a composite of themes, leaning towards the minor mode, all got here to us with the identical virtuosic abandon as earlier than. Extra dry humor ensued because the seriousness of the cadenza gave strategy to the jubilant rondo; the next orchestral tutti elicited a yawn of blasé ease from Kuusisto.

Pekka Kuusisto and John Storgårds  (Michael J. Lutch picture)

If the Nielsen didn’t persuade us of Kuusisto’s singular expertise, his conventional Finnish folk-dance encore absolutely did. This tune, devoted to the Satan, Kuusisto likewise provided with particular because of the BSO for his or her consummate collaboration. Distorted, eerie sul tasto tones crescendoed from pianississississimo to full forte as a raucous Finnish tavern scene zoomed into focus. An A-B-A dance, immense dynamic contrasts combined alongside mild foot stomps additional painted the image. The diabolus spun, then slowed from whirling pace with a loud stomp from Kuusisto, sending us into the evening: rapturous applause.

A splendidly contrasting triptych of Sibelius tone poems concluded the live performance. Decreased because it had been to only Tapiola on Friday evening, the aesthetic impact of this excellent BSO cycle should absolutely have been much less potent. Aallottaret (“The Oceanides,” or “The Ocean Nymphs”) opened the trio in pulsating lilts of waves from the strings, shimmering in water to the identical impact Tarkiainen painted in rays of midnight daylight. Instantly, the plush and sonorous Sibelius sound world greeted the listener, sumptuously coaxed by Storgårds. From nice heights of sunshine, we now discovered ourselves in an underwater expedition of sound, the oceanic depths traversed most pictorially by the results of the muted strings. An analogous hairpin like construction to the Tarkiainen, the orchestra got here to an immense climax wrought by the brass and ostinato strings, earlier than a shortly tapered conclusion. Robert Kirzinger’s notes defined that Sibelius wrote this on fee for the Norfolk Music Pageant in Connecticut. Sibelius premiered it on these shores throughout the identical 1914 journey through which he accepted an honorary diploma from Yale, leading to what biographer Andrew Barnett described as “perhaps the greatest triumph he would ever experience as conductor.”

The Bard adopted this show, as a pleading adagio depicting a mythic character from Historical Scandinavian legend. Strums from solo harp, the good storyteller of this story, urged the episodic sections gently ahead. Tapiola, Sibelius’s closing symphonic masterpiece, accomplished the set in one other legendary depiction: the Finnish forest god, Tapio. If the earlier works had not already made it clear, this one made the ultimate argument for nature as the best storyteller of all of them: a primordial, unstable magnificence going past all delusion and legend, stretching to the ineffable. Stravinsky wrote his Ceremony of Spring, however right here, Sibelius provides us an equally compelling Ceremony of Winter.

After a blustery opening, all sense of time is suspended, and for practically twenty minutes, the music uneasily meanders about, breezy sighs and freezing gusts from the strings rustling leaves on branches and on the forest ground. Pregnant rests appear to stretch on interminably…All through, the standoffish opening theme is all the time current, and although it seems in lots of guises and variations, it arrives at none that make it any much less unsettling. Ostensibly it is a peaceable work general, however it’s peaceable solely within the sense of primeval nature being left to its personal gadgets, and when lastly the piece drifts to an finish with three unmistakable and surprising pulses of a pure main triad, it’s exhausting to not surprise if the whole lot doesn’t appear just a bit too quiet.  – Jay Goodwin

Nicolas Sterner is a conductor, cellist, educator, and author primarily based in Cambridge, MA. Energetic as a freelancer and organizer of concert events, he’s the founder and collaborative director of the Chromos Collaborative.  Most lately, his “Courtyard Concert” collection with Chromos acquired public recognition by the Boston Globe, as a part of their the Covid-19 pandemic piece “What we lost, what we found.” For extra info, please go to Nicolas’ skilled portfolio at

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