Sibelius Second Symphony, Philharmonia, St David’s Hall

December 1, 2019 by

The Philharmonia were last seen given an awesome rendition of Holst’s The Planets. Here they were back again just a few months later with a concert perhaps not as accessible, but with a programme which might divide opinon.

Brahms might not always make the mark, but his Violin Concerto is a fine example of a 19th century piece in that vein. His pushing of the boundaries in length and endurance are commendable, though I find the musical elements he uses are not always as interesting as they should be. Soloist Sayaka Shoji never stopped here, in an ever-increasing display of force, bringing a dynamic concentration to the work. The piece itself does lose me in moment and I find myself getting frustrated with the composer, yet I find the rowdy and cheery final movement wins us all over in its trailblazing energy. It’s not a concerto I would return to often, but I found hearing it live stimulating and full of perspective.

Vladimir Ashkenazy could conduct anything and I would there to listen It’s always a pleasure to this mannered maestro return to the Welsh capital. His Second Symphony showcases his Finnish charm, his nuanced harmonies and the advancement of the symphony as an art form. Sibelius appears to separate the sections of the orchestra quite clearly, woodwind has some pleasant moments but never really shine. The brass and strings get a mass of material, pushing the music forward with a strange drive. Even the frequently used timpani feels reserved at the end, in what should be a blazing conclusion. The music being evenly shared like this make for a though provoking encounter, yet I don’t know if it can maintenance this for its roughly 45 mins. The composer would try again in later symphonic work that we can compare to this earlier offering.

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