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.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Yorkshire man to win £10,000 off a £1 bet placed six years ago if Dan Jarvis becomes Labour Party leader
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
- 4 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 5 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Cassetteboy joins forces with Russell Brand for Emperor's New Clothes film
Poldark, TV review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear: Former Stig Ben Collins says show 'will always continue' with or without suspended host
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers