Leonidas Kavakos, London Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vanska, Barbican, London
Monday 10 December 2012
Perennially racked with terrors which he drowned in alcohol, Sibelius’s first ambition was to be a violinist, but nerves got the better of him.
Even as a composer-conductor he was vulnerable: ‘When I am standing in front of a grand orchestra and have drunk a half-bottle of champagne, then I conduct like a young god. Otherwise I am nervous and tremble,’ he wrote.
The gestation of his violin concerto was similarly bedevilled. He wrote it for the great German violinist Willy Burmester, but an ultimatum from the bank manager made Sibelius programme it prematurely; Burmester not being free, it was given to another soloist whose performance was a disaster.
Sibelius withdrew it, spent two years on a rewrite, and re-programmed it on yet another date when Burmester wasn’t free: terminally offended, Burmester never did play it.
Having jointly recorded both versions of this work, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska were uniquely well placed to deliver this performance of the second. Vanska had the violins of the London Symphony Orchestra playing their opening susurration on the outer edge of audibility, while Kavakos made his entry with a notably spacious and singing tone.
The little bursts of solo pyrotechnics punctuating the first movement were exquisitely done, and in the elegiac Adagio his sound was compelling even when it sank to a whisper. The final Allegro saw orchestra and soloist achieving an ideal synergy, with Kavakos’s sound shining brightly against the bass-heavy backdrop; one could not have wished for a clearer demonstration that this work stands in the grand tradition of Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
The rest of this concert consisted of Sibelius’s Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, with Vanska’s accounts having a visionary clarity. The ethereal polyphony with which the Sixth begins was gracefully sculpted, and the medieval modal scale on which that symphony was based was used to create an atmosphere of enchantment; Sibelius’s label for one of the stormy episodes was ‘the pine tree spirit and the wind’, and that was exactly how the music came across.
Both these works have a valetudinary quality, and Vanska honoured this with such grave authority that one really could feel, as the massive final phrase of the Seventh sounded, that this was the end for Sibelius, and that his ensuing thirty-year creative silence was the necessary conclusion to the story.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kim Jong-un shows off airport designed by architect he likely had executed
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 4 Tunisian builder has been hailed a hero after knocking gunman to the ground with roof tiles
- 5 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate
Glastonbury 2015: Lionel Richie attracts festival's biggest crowds for Sunday's 'dad slot'
The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair at Glastonbury is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera House, review: Gang rape and stripping naked of female actor met with boos
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato