Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Prom 42: Sibelius (RAH)

the choir enters
Sometimes, it's all about context.

Listening to incidental music in a concert setting is in many ways a frustrating experience. In this case we had over a hour's worth of Sibelius' music for The Tempest, and while there was much beautiful music in it, ideas tended to flit by briefly, and overall the whole thing would be better heard with the play around it. As the evening progresses I become aware of a strange background noise which, it gradually dawns on me, is the sound of rain pummeling the Albert Hall's roof - a tempest outside becoming part of the Tempest within. Sometimes you need something like that to transport you to where you need to be, and allow the magic of Shakespeare's island to take you.

Sibelius wrote many songs, and the selection we hear after the interval demonstrate how good he was at it, the miniaturist in him coming to the fore in these exquisite jewels, evoking worlds with a few brushstrokes.

We finish with his Seventh Symphony, a piece whose tragic nobility rarely fails to affect me. Some conductors like to squeeze every drop out of the last bar, to wrench a triumphant peroration from it, but Osmo Vänskä (surely the best living conductor of Sibelius) and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra are better than that, and allow it to do what Sibelius intended - to evaporate, leaving an aching sense of loss and leave-taking hanging in the air.

Sometimes context creeps up on you.

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