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October 15, 2010 11:44 pm
In the second half of the 20th century the northern countries of Europe reasserted their place on the musical map. A constant supply of young composers was coming forth and, perhaps no less important, there were also conductors working internationally who were keen to take the music of their home countries with them.
The momentum has not dissipated yet. The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä always has the music of the north close to hand wherever he goes. Having completed a very successful cycle of the Sibelius symphonies with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the start of this year, he was back on Wednesday with a new work by his compatriot Magnus Lindberg and Walton’s Symphony No.1.
Every new piece that Lindberg introduces seems to be a little more conservative than the last. Al Largo, a joint LPO commission getting its first UK performance here, is no exception. Although the surface of the music comes across like a busy fashion parade of glamorous orchestral sounds, somewhere underneath an old-fashioned, romantic threnody is playing out. Lindberg has cited Ravel and Schoenberg among his inspirations, but the most impressive feature of this score is how consistently he gets the orchestration to sound like nobody but Lindberg. Whether the musical ideas are equally memorable is another matter. For 25 minutes Al Largo seduces the ear brilliantly, but after that it does not linger long.
As though to cleanse the ear, the programme continued with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, its clear spring waters negotiated with perfectly schooled playing, but not much colour or depth, by the young Polish violinist Agata Szymczewska.
Picking up the orchestral dazzle of the Lindberg again after the interval, Vänskä ended the concert with the Walton. Aggressive, bitter, apprehensive, wistful, this symphony has a 1930s mood that is very much its own and Vänskä tried to penetrate that with a keen ear on inner parts and rhythmic detail. Maybe that was why the players sometimes seemed to be skating on ice, nervous that the ensemble might be on the point of falling in. It never did and yet Vänskä still did not quite have the single-mindedness to drive this British – indeed, very northern – symphony to its inexorable, hammering conclusion.
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