The Origin of Fire is the sparky title of the Hallé's tribute to Sibelius, ignited by the 50th anniversary of the composer's death. In four concerts conducted by Mark Elder, the seven symphonies were mingled with vocal and choral rarities.
The Origin of Fire itself is a choral cantata drawing inspiration from the Kalevala. That most fertile of Finnish epics featured like a thread throughout the mini-series, providing, in the final concert, the inspiration for one of Sibelius's strangest and most haunting mature masterpieces, Luonnotar.
Telling of the creation of the world, it makes cruel demands on the soprano soloist. Hillevi Martinpelto rose thrillingly to the challenge, while the orchestra conveyed the atmosphere and weird sonorities of this extraordinary score.
Framing the programme with Night Ride and Sunrise and the composer's last full-scale orchestral work, the symphonic poem Tapiola, Elder's interpretation of both pieces evoked the unsettling nature and chilling majesty of, respectively, darkness and light, and the dusky Nordic forest.
Whether or not wood-sprites in the gloom wove magic secrets, as Sibelius described in his explanation of the title, Tapiola was given a performance that was strong on drama and captured every detail of Sibelius's sound-world. In his refined orchestration each instrument seems to evoke nature, wind, light, vast expanses and solitude, and the Hallé players were unfailingly responsive.
Elder's judgement of pacing in the one-movement Seventh Symphony proved crucial in controlling its surging tone and seemingly weightless impetus. The pulsating strings were polished in their scalic visions of light, the trombone authoritative in its brassiness. Each section of the orchestra proved dedicated and sensitive exponents, making the most of the striking tonal juxtapositions and natural means of expression Sibelius provides.
Only the four songs, of which "Svarta rosor" ("Black Roses") is the best-known, failed to catch fire. Sibelius's songs are a rich area of the repertoire, but the luminous intimacy of their piano originals loses something in translation to the medium of orchestra.Reuse content