Davidsen, Oslo Philharmonic, Mäkelä, Barbican review – complete workout for the nervous system
An ecstatic, albeit barely enthralled, Barbican audience evidently agreed. Acoustic differences on tour are always going to be a problem, and this venue’s tendency to crank up every dynamic at least a notch above meant a volume we sometimes wanted to turn down a bit (the Norwegian orchestra and its Finnish conductor must have felt spoiled by the Elbphilharmonie). But each chord was so perfectly textured and placed that I wouldn’t have wished it otherwise; and I imagine the hyper-intense string tremolos already evident in the recording of the symphonies could not be done on a lower level. Oslo violas, like Bartok’s interpretation in February miraculous tangerine Suite remarkably proven, are unequaled in tone, articulation and projection, and, arranged to the right of Mäkelä, they launched a thoughtful program with the start of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony Adagio: not lost and frail, but nuance the first of many lines that have never wavered. Mahler’s neat colored backings took your breath away at regular intervals: the dark golden trombones, the equally well-tuned horns. And even the dissonant loud cry that threatens to engulf everything in the terrifying, trumpet-crowned climax was not overemphasized; the movement has just transitioned seamlessly to its now peaceful twilight end.
Admirable as it may have been to step back in time and even the mood of Mahler’s 25-year-old junior, Alban Berg, to his debut with the Seven Early Songs, before giving off the doom-sexy air with the ultimate triumph of the heroic E flat major in Sibelius Five, the last of the program works to be completed. But it was perhaps not the most generous end to Lise Davidsen’s Barbican mini-residency; the aphoristic twilight daydreams allow for some great blazes in the upper register, which she took on with aplomb. Yet, as it is an opulent rather than sultry lyrical-dramatic voice, the fusion in the orchestral colors could not occur and somehow the focus returned to the mesmerizing brass instruments. , especially on trombones now muted. Then the sequence, as always, ended before you knew it.
A Sibelius song was longed for, and Davidsen agreed – with not one but two reminders: the short but direct “Was it a dream?” and the powerful ballad of betrayal, “The girl has returned from a date with her lover”. deservedly the most famous vocal setting of the composer thanks to Kirsten Flagstad, the soprano Davidsen already approaches it in timbre and amplitude, What a pity, when the surtitles had served the Berg so well, that this reminder of last minute could not be understood by many in the audience; but Davidsen really came into its own with a fully played delivery that should have given them more than a hint of meaning. At a previous recital at Barbican, she had excelled in Sibelius’s song-poem creation Luonnotar, one of his greatest masterpieces, but with piano; orchestra next time, please.
Whatever Sibelius symphony you hear, and however famous it may be, in a great performance it always sounds utterly fresh and unfathomably deep. So it was with this brilliantly lit Fifth, so radiant from the pairs of woods at the start before the retreat into winding mystery, ppppp, tremolos so intense they brought tears to your eyes, and a perfectly timed crescendo to the big sunburn that it’s so hard to believe it wasn’t there in the original version (Sibelius just made the scherzo, repeating much of the opening activity, its second movement). No chance, either, that the middle movement is a light intermezzo as it so often seems; each color change brought new surprises.
Delirium threatened to set in for the finale with its transcendent swan song; but Sibelius, in its latest version of three, and Mäkelä as an early master of rhythm knew exactly when to apply the extra sensations. It’s hard to believe the Oslo players still had energy, but these very cheerful musicians came alive for a much older Sibelian triumph, the return of the epic Finnish hero. Lemminkainen with spiky details and fleeting lights I’ve never heard before: excitement and sophistication held in perfect balance until the end.