qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Swan Songs

Regrettably, I missed two Proms I'd wanted to see last week (Mahler 9 and Shostakovich 4) because of a lingering summer cold, but that is behind me now. The economic recovery is plainly here: I couldn't get in to the usual car park in Reading yesterday lunchtime, and after some dithering parked a 20 minute walk away. This meant I was a bit later than usual arriving in London, but even so I ended up with a pretty good spot in the second row of the arena.

The pre-Prom talk was on Sibelius and the influence of Nature. It was fair enough, although I can't say it was especially memorable. Humorously, comparisons were invited between Lemminkäinen (described as the "bad boy" of Finnish mythology) and the hard-drinking Sibelius.

The first half of the concert was all new to me: it began with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Caroline Mathilde suite. I find that you never quite know what you're going to get with "Max": on this occasion I rather liked it. The wordless voices of Mary Bevan and Kitty Whately were cleverly hidden within the energetic BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Thomas Søndergård. This was followed by Walton's Violin Concerto. I felt some tunes in this were familiar; possibly I've heard fragments of it before, or maybe it was just replete with timeless melodies. Right at the end of the first movement there was an enormous sneeze from somewhere in the stalls: unfortunate, but one of the more forgivable noise-off that can occur. In the quieter moments you could hear the rain on the roof of the Albert Hall; soloist James Ehnes looked upwards between the second and third movements. The final movement seemed rather long and must have been wearing to play, but he still gave us an encore - as seems obligatory, from Bach - this time a movement from one of the sonatas for solo violin.

The second half was the reason I'd chosen this concert: Sibelius. First, The Swan of Tuonela, a short tone poem inspired by the Kalevala. It's archetypal Sibelius - dark, brooding, sparse, spectral, with haunting string lines. The final work was his Symphony No. 5 - in some ways an antithesis, as I think it's some of the most uplifting music he ever wrote (particularly the ending of the first movement). Interestingly, it's claimed on Wikipedia that the Swan of Tuonela was considered for inclusion in the original Fantasia film; I think both this and the final movement of the Fifth Symphony would be suitable potential subjects for such treatment. If the Swan of Tuonela represents Death, then the "Swan Hymn" in the final movement of the symphony is surely life-affirming.
Tags: music
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