MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part I

Thomas Dausgaard; (c) Morten Abrahamsen

Thomas Dausgaard; (c) Morten Abrahamsen

My latest review is now posted on Bachtrack:

Only a few orchestras around the world have programmed a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The Berlin Philharmonic just completed its traversal under Sir Simon Rattle last month (in Berlin and London), and the Seattle Symphony – the only orchestra in the U.S. to undertake all seven symphonies in back-to-back programming for the jubilee year – embarked on its Sibelian marathon Thursday evening.

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Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

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  1. David Brooks says:

    Thanks for the bachtrack review. I just got back from the Saturday showing. Like you, I was wowed by Dausgaard’s rethinking of the pieces. His program notes gave us fair warning that he sees the symphonies as personal journeys, and here I think he delivered. By the way, you mentioned Solti – I also thought of Haitink, in the way he swayed to his players and sometimes gave you the impression he wanted to jump in and play himself.

    First things first. It’s not often that you can say you heard a great performance of Finlandia. Oh, yes, it’s that overture with the growling chords, the funny syncopated fanfare, the hymn tune, and lots of connective tissue. But Dausgaard found the path all the way through, connecting phrases between instrumental groups and giving the work so much respect that it sounded like a fully featured symphonic movement. And the orchestra responded with verve and commitment (despite the slight false start from the brass).

    I wish I had heard the First Symphony that you seemed to have. By contrast with Finlandia, to me it exposed the orchestra’s weaknesses. There was some forced tone in the strings (we haven’t heard that since Schwarz left), caused, I think, by the uncompromisingly fast tempi in the inner movements. In the scherzo the trumpets couldn’t keep up (but, to be fair, that’s a hard assignment). The flutes’ intonation was suspect in places and the woodwind ensemble was not what we have come to expect recently – both problems went away in the second half. There were some fine moments; of course, Ben Lulich’s opening was deeply poetic (and I can certainly hear Laura DeLuca’s influence in his pianissimos). During the big tune in the last movement I found myself breathing with the music. But on the whole I got the opposite impression from you: under-rehearsed, and not fully delivered.

    I approached the Second hoping, at least, to erase the awful memory of Robert Spano from a few years back. And, boy, did it deliver. This was a golden performance, with the orchestra responding to every twitch and pulse from Dausgaard. Hard to believe it had any connection with the previous performance. There are some opportunities for melodrama that were avoided (again, fast tempi in the last movement helped, and the big ending was kept balanced and in check). The first movement flowed in a way that can be difficult with its jigsaw-puzzle construction. And kudos to the audience. The Seattle audience can be restless, with too many people at this point fidgeting and flipping through the list of contributors in the program. Not this evening – the attentive silence from the seats was an added bonus to of the experience (well, apart from the guy who decided it was time to leave during the recapitulation of the last movement). Let’s hope they can repeat the trick for the last page of the Fifth.

    I’ve played timpani in the Second a few times. I hope Matt Drumm is at home now icing his wrists.


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