Santtu-Matias Rouvali interprets Sibelius in his own distinctive way and opens a new fascinating world.
A better launch can't be imagined: when Sibelius' First Symphony had been premièred in Helsinki it travelled on a tour with Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Robert Kajanus to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Berlin to finish at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Sibelius wrote from Berlin: "My music was a glorious, colossal success".
Under the baton of the talented Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra performs Jean Sibelius' Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39. Recorded at Gothenburg Concert Hall, on March 9, 2018.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
♪ Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39 (1898-1899)
i. Andante, ma non troppo – Allegro energico
iii. Scherzo: Allegro
iv. Finale: Andante – Allegro molto
♪ Valse triste, Op.44 No.1 (1903)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Gothenburg Concert Hall, March 9, 2018
When, at 33, Jean Sibelius finally composed his Symphony No.1, he already had a portfolio of orchestral music. His harmonic vocabulary, technical apparatus, orchestral style, and thematic character (rooted in the Finnish language) were firmly in place and organized. If, as Beckmessers have carped from the beginning, the first symphony here and there echoes Tchaikovsky, so do contemporaneous works by Glazunov and Rachmaninov; Pyotr Ilyich's Pathétique Symphony was not yet six years old when Sibelius introduced his new First with the Helsinki Philharmonic on April 27, 1899.
Melodic substance and sonorities are voluptuous in the First without bursting the corset-stays of decorum or modesty. As Finnish patriotism hardened into resistance, Sibelius became emblematic both at home and abroad. His music attracted an ever-growing and appreciative following in Great Britain and the United States (but none at all in France, Italy, or Vienna). Politics aside, Russian conductors and concertgoers liked it nearly as much – especially the First and Second symphonies. While No.2 is technically surer and structurally tighter, No.1 is the more memorable melodically, and the more volatile emotionally.
The whole first movement is unified by a theme heard at the outset, played by a single clarinet over a soft timpani roll, then without accompaniment. In one way or another, the abundance of themes in a tightly argued movement derives from this opening, most ingeniously so in an episode for staccato flutes playing in thirds over strings and harp, extensively developed later on but not reprised before two E minor chords at the end.
Both the slow movement and the scherzo are free adaptations of three-part form (ABA). Instead of new material, the B section of the Andante develops the main theme of A and then reprises only that theme. Here more than anywhere else, the Pathétique of Pyotr Ilyich casts an occasional lugubrious shadow on isolated string and bassoon passages.
The pounding, headlong scherzo, with an A section in C, D flat, and G major, restores the timpani to prominence. The middle part, however, is slow (Lento) and sostenuto, in E major, until a transition back to the C major song section, where the previous D flat material is reprised in G flat before an accelerating coda.
The finale begins in E minor with the same theme that opened the Symphony, here played throbbingly by violins, violas, and cellos before its fragmentary development by pairs or groups of winds. This is only the introduction, however, to a sonata-form Finale. Its main-theme group of fast-moving, folk-flavored segments – fragments, almost – sets up a lyrical second theme played by unison violins on the G string. Thereafter, the main-theme group is developed extensively, verging on melodrama, following which the bardic G string theme returns. It, too, is developed to a passionate climax before the ending echoes the first movement: two E minor chords – now soft, however, rather than loud, and pizzicato rather than sostenuto.
Source: Roger Dettmer (allmusic.com)
The 2017-2018 season sees Santtu-Matias Rouvali (b. 1985, Finland) begin two new tenures; Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, alongside these positions he continues his longstanding Chief Conductor-ship with the Tampere Philharmonic close to his home in Finland. Hailed by The Guardian as "the latest sit-up-and-listen talent to emerge from the great Finnish conducting tradition", until last season Santtu-Matias Rouvali was also Principal Guest Conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic.
Rouvali has upcoming debuts with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Münchner Philharmoniker and Orquesta Nacionale de España in Madrid, as well as regular relationships with other orchestras across Europe, including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Paris, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; and has ambitious touring plans with his own orchestras over the next few seasons in Europe, Japan and North America. His first season as Chief Conductor in Gothenburg includes a substantial Nordic tour with pianist Hélène Grimaud.
Previously a Dudamel Fellow at the conducting programme with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, last season he made a triumphant return as a highlight of their subscription season, alongside other American debuts with the Minnesota and Cincinnati symphony orchestras.
In June 2017, as Chief Conductor-designate, he joined Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony in their El Sistema Side by Side project with the Gothenburg Symphony, which has been a hugely successful summer camp for children and young people.
As another cornerstone to his tenure in Gothenburg, he looks forward to adding his mark to the Orchestra's impressive recording legacy. Rouvali's latest disc – of Nielsen and Sibelius' violin concertos is with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Baiba Skride – was released in summer 2015 on ORFEO. Rouvali has been Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic since 2013, and in addition to his other recordings, highlights of the tenure so far include a Sibelius symphony cycle in autumn 2015, and the Orchestra's first tour to Japan in spring 2017 where they were accompanied by an exhibition of original Moomin drawings by Tove Jansson to mark the opening of the new museum at the Tampere Hall.
Alongside an extremely busy symphonic conducting career, as Chief Conductor in Tampere he has conducted Verdi's La forza del destino with Tampere Opera and his next project with them, in spring 2018, is a world premiere of Olli Kortekangas's My Brother's Keeper (Veljeni vartija) with Tampere Opera.
Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts
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