Sibelius and Beyond, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

This concert – one of a series of 23 under the title Sibelius & Beyond in various London venues this autumn marking the 50th anniversary of his death – proved a problematic affair.

Part of this was due to Sibelius himself. Although he was an accomplished violinist and wrote a quantity of chamber music up to the age of 25, there is only one string quartet from his maturity – a rather odd piece in itself.

And though he poured out songs for most of his creative life, they vary wildly in quality from salon stuff to the strikingly experimental, while their idiosyncratic piano accompaniments require the most sensitive handling if they are not to sound awkward and gauche.

At least the concert opened on a high, with the noble-toned young Finnish cellist Tuomas Ylinen, juicily accompanied by Valeria Resjan, delivering a tremendous account of Malinconia Op 20, and almost convincing us that this perfervid rhapsody of agonised phrases and late Romantic clichés prompted by the death of Sibelius' youngest daughter amounts to a masterpiece.

Then the young prize-winning Finnish quartet Meta4 appeared to give an energetic, if somewhat untidy performance of the String Quartet in D minor, Op 56, "Voces Intimae". Composed between the Third and Fourth symphonies, this contains a gem of a scherzo in its scudding second movement and some proto-Bartokian skirling elsewhere. Nor was one convinced on this occasion that its five disparate movements, for all their thematic cross-connections, quite add up to a whole.

The distinguished Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen appeared in the second half to sing Sibelius' Seven Songs, Op 13, on Swedish verses by Runeberg and another seven selected from his best. But, alas, the stentorian voice sounded in poor shape.

Nor was he helped by Ilkka Paananen's choppy way with the piano accompaniments, lacking any sense of continuity and line. A shame, for songs such as "Teodora" and "On a Veranda by the Sea" are among Sibelius' boldest and most personal utterances. But one wondered how many in the audience who did not know these songs already were getting the message.

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