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Jean Sibelius

Monday, September 26, 2016


My Classical Notes

September 17

The Sibelius Concerto

My Classical NotesFinnish-born composer Jean Sibelius died on September 20, 1957 at the age of 91. He had composed symphonies, tone poems, and shorter pieces. For me, the violin concerto represents his ultimate achievement. This work is filled with wonderful melodies, as well as amazing technical demonstrations of the violinist’s capabilities. Sibelius was a violinist himself, and so he composed out of a total familiarity with what the instrument was capable of doing. Brahms also produced a violin masterpiece, but the composer was a pianist, and he required help from his friend, Joseph Joachim, to make certain passages more playable. As I recall, I first heard the Sibelius concerto performed by Russian violinist David Oistrakh many years ago. I was stunned by its beauty. Here is the late violinist David Oistrakh, performing the Sinelius concerto:

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

September 21

Germany founds a national doctors orchestra

What does your physician do to relieve stress? Plays the cello. In Germany, the doctors have joined up into a Bundesärztekammerphilharmonie. Opening concert in Hamburg, October 3. Works by Alberic Magnard, Marko Mihevc and Jean Sibelius, themed ‘An das Leben’. Photo: Matthew Brunwasser






Tribuna musical

September 15

Steuerman and Alegre: pianistic maturity and youthful exuberance

One essential talent if you manage a concert institution is to show quick reflexes in case of an unexpected crisis. The Mozarteum Argentino has always shown that capacity, and the sudden intoxication of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes , who had arrived to our city for two recitals, gave them just one day to find a suitable replacement; aided by luck and the good disposition of the artist, we had the presence of Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman, who not only saved the day but gave a quality programme with results that were quite good. The venue was, as usual, the Colón. On the one hand I regretted the absence of Andsnes, a distinguished artist who had visited us only once as soloist with the BBC Orchestra, and who promised several pieces of Sibelius, rarely heard here and beautiful; I do hope that he will be back in another season. On the other hand, Steuerman (whose names and surname make me think of an Alsatian rather than a Brazilian) is an artist of important trajectory, and in his sixties his style and technique are in full maturity. Years ago he played with our Philharmonic Rachmaninov´s First Concerto. His programme was made up of four masterpìeces of contrasting aesthetics. He started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s First Partita: he has been awarded the Diapason d´Or for his recording of the Six Partitas, and has recently recorded the Goldberg Variations, so he is recognised as an authoritative voice in Bach for piano. Mind you, there will always be two controversies: whether it should be played on the piano, as the originals are for harpsichord; and if they are, should players imitate the harpsichord. On the evidence of what we heard, Steuerman believes in the second variant; three examples: the limpid articulation without pedal; some chords played as arpeggios, as harpsichordists do to make the sound less dry; and the ornamentation of repeats, for in the Baroque, both in opera and instrumental music, the first time you play the music straight, but the second is ornamented to avoid monotony. Steuerman played with taste and knowledge, avoiding the full decibels of the modern piano. Then, the challenge of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 30, one of the famous last three where the composer explores new roads constantly. Although I wasn´t quite convinced in the First movement, where the speed contrasts weren´t as natural as they can be and the light cascades of sound should have been more poetic, the Prestissimo was firmly met, and the theme with variations of the last movement was impeccable. The Six little pieces for piano, Op.19, by Arnold Schönberg, are little jewels of atonal Expressionism of great historic importance, and Steuerman proved to be in complete empathy with the language (he has recorded the complete Schönberg piano scores). Curiously, Edward Steuermann (two "ns") studied composition with Schönberg and premièred all the composer´s piano works. And then, Chopin´s great Third Sonata, tackled by Steuerman with a sense of form often distorted by colleagues that opt for ultra-Romantic interpretations: he gave us the music as written, with no exaggeration. The First movement had all the necessary emphasis of its varied moods, the Scherzo was airy and light, and if the Largo felt a bit monotonous, it always does: there´s too much repetition; the breathless Finale is a tour de force and in it Steuerman showed his controlled virtuosity. More Chopin in the encores: a charming Mazurka, and a "Minute Waltz" where he took the nickname too literally; it benefits by a less hectic tempo. Two weeks ago the 2016 cycle of Chopiniana, the piano institution led by Martha Noguera, started its season at the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar) with a recital by Luis Ascot which unfortunately collided with the Mahler Third Symphony by Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, but the second concert had no such problem and I was there. The Palacio is undergoing some changes and the first floor hall that was used for the concerts is now a restaurant, so we were back (as some years ago) at the lavish oval hall in the ground floor: attractive visually with its marbles and fine decoration, typical of the early Twentieth-Century, but too resonant. Tomás Alegre is only 24 and has been studying with Nelson Goerner at Geneva with a scholarship. His programme was short but difficult: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata, presumably in its revised version of 1931. Nº 21 may be the most energetic of Beethoven´s sonatas with a first movement that is relentless in its brilliance and intensity; after the pause of the slow movement, the third starts with serene feeling but soon piles up tremendous problems of coordination, magnified in the long Prestissimo coda. I believe that there is merit in virtuosity, and Alegre certainly has privileged fingers; however, he sometimes relaxed the basic pulse and the marked slowing downs ("ritenuti") were much slower than necessary and with silences that were too long. Alegre was in his element in Rachmaninov´s powerhouse of a sonata, with its ample rhetorics; of course the composer was also the best Russian pianist and he wrote it for himself. The young Argentine attacked it fearlessly with total command, showing the solidity of his training. The encores were quite good: the splendid Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 Nº1 and a typical Piazzolla in skillful piano transcription. For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

September 15

The Juvenil San Martín sparkles in Benzecry and Sibelius

As readers know, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional José de San Martín is having an important season. The concert they offered last Sunday morning at the Blue Whale confirms it. It had attractive traits on paper, and they became reality at the hands of Venezuelan clarinetist Valdemar Rodríguez and conductor Pablo Boggiano. And the programme was enticing: the première of Esteban Benzecry´s Concerto for clarinet, and Sibelius´ marvelous First Symphony. Boggiano studied with Mario Benzecry, founder of the Juvenil, and at the Catholic University. He went on to Europe where he had several teachers, especially the Finnish Jorma Panula. He made an early debut at 18 in BA, and in Europe has had vast activity in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. But Vienna and other Austrian cities are. his principal working ground. He also conducted in Slovakia and with a first-rate orchestra in London: the Royal Philharmonic. And since 2010 he is invited by our National Symphony. Esteban Benzecry is Argentine (son of Mario); he has carved a place for himself in Paris with his personal style based on a mixture of Latin-American roots with contemporary procedures, specially emphasizing orchestral variety. The Pasdeloup Orchestra is playing this season no less than eight of his works! But some of his scores have been heard in BA, so we know what to expect. A clarinet concerto generally has little to do with the telluric; his is an exception, and the titles of the movements are the evidence: "Ecos del Horizonte", "Danzas Volcánicas", "Baguala Enigmática" and "Toccata caribeña". The orchestra is rather big with lots of percussion featuring typically American instruments. The Concerto starts with an introspective clarinet solo and has a big slow cadenza in the middle of the final hectic Toccata. There is an influence of the Ginastera of such scores as "Cantata para la América mágica" or "Popol Vuh", but Benzecry has something of his own to say and by now has a thorough command of his craft. Although there are colorful and loud episodes, the clarinet is never swamped, and the music feels American and modern. Rodríguez has an impressive curriculum; among his teachers were no less than Gervase de Peyer and Guy Deplus. Apart from an intense concert life as First Desk of the famous Simón Bolívar Orchestra and as soloist, plus chamber music, he is also a distinguished teacher (Director General of the Bolívar Conservatory). Here he premièred the original version for clarinet "di bassetto" (lower than the normal one) of Mozart´s Clarinet Concerto. Predictably, his playing was impeccable in every sense: a master of his art. And Boggiano (after a correct Overture to Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro") showed his mettle with a clear and intense interpretation; the orchestra collaborated with full concentration. The Second Part was pure pleasure: Sibelius´ is among the very best First Symphonies in History, along with Brahms, Shostakovich , Prokofiev and Mahler. Written in 1899, the same year of "Finlandia", when at 34 his technical command was quite mature, it is personal from the very beginning and maintains tension, variety and fresh imagination throughout its almost 40 minutes. I don´t believe in Tchaikovsky´s influence: Sibelius had a style of his own and is a major figure in the evolution of the symphony. This is quite a challenge for a conductor, and Boggiano showed he is ready: the speeds were logical, there was contrast and cohesion, admirable playing particularly from the brass and the tympani, and that sense of desolate drama that can only be Nordic, but also energy and excitement. An enthralling trip into a unique sound world. A final comment: if you sit around the tenth row the acoustics are much better than farther upstairs, where stridency appears. For Buenos Aires Herald

Jean Sibelius
(1865 – 1957)

Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 - 20 September 1957) was a Finnish composer of the later Romantic period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. His mastery of the orchestra has been described as "prodigious". The core of Sibelius's oeuvre is his set of seven symphonies. Like Beethoven, Sibelius used each successive work to further develop his own personal compositional style. His works continue to be performed frequently in the concert hall and are often recorded. In addition to the symphonies, Sibelius's best-known compositions include Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto in D minor and The Swan of Tuonela (one of the four movements of the Lemminkäinen Suite). Other works include pieces inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala; over 100 songs for voice and piano; incidental music for 13 plays; the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower); chamber music; piano music; Masonic ritual music; and 21 separate publications of choral music. Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s. However, after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music to The Tempest (1926), and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he produced no large scale works for the remaining thirty years of his life.



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