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Sibelius cycle - Osmo Vänskä


Jean Sibelius: The Wood Nymph, op.15 (1894)

6 Humoresques for violin & orchestra, opp 87 and 89 (1917)

Symphony No.1 in E minor, op.39 (1899)


Henning Kraggerud – violin, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä


Royal Festival Hall, London: 27 January 2010


A Sibelius cycle from Vänskä is always welcome, if only because he blows some fresh air across our perceptions of the great Finnish master and is always ready to act on what he perceives to be the important moments in the works.


It’s easy to see why Sibelius withheld The Wood Nymph from public scrutiny after its composition for it fails to satisfy in many ways. Starting in the manner of the Karelia Suite, with portentous trombones and a somewhat dull musical idea, a fast section suddenly enters the world of the finale of the 1st Symphony. A reprise of the opening should have been brought things to an end but no, a section for solo cello and further development of rather insignificant ideas ensues and the whole continues for some 15 minutes Sibelius loses the plot... It’s usually interesting to hear works which a composer puts aside but performers and musicologists should be aware that sometimes the work was discarded for a very good reason; not everything should be resurrected just because it is written by a master.


The two sets of Humoresques are delightful miniatures and showed us the mature Sibelius. In the safe hands of Henning Kraggerud we were treated to a lovely suite of bite size Sibelius which touch on the dark side of his thinking – four of the six pieces are in the minor! Kraggerud displayed all the virtuosity these pieces require but was also aware that much of this music is quite tender and heart warming. A lovely performance of pieces infrequentlyheard; Vänskä’s accompaniments were masterful.


Although the 1st Symphony is full of Tchaikovsky there is much of the emerging Sibelius on show in this work – especially in the woodwind writing. Vänskä’s approach to this work is sensational to say the least. Choosing fast tempi, which worked in the outer movements but in the Scherzo the poor woodwinds were scrambling to get their phrases played without sounding pushed to the limit we were whisked through this Russo-Finnish travelogue in such a way that we saw the broad view but didn’t have time to dwell on the close details. Vänskä made it all very exciting but often missed the reflection. However, the ominous pizzicato at the end was superbly handled and his snuffing out of the music was skilful.


Whilst the show didn’t excite me in the way it should, it bodes well for the series and it’s possible that the LPO will respond better to Vänskä’s direction as the composer matures into the Symphonist we couldn’t live without.


Bob Briggs


Ses also Symphonies 3 & 2 and 6 & 7