Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sibelius, Again

The Sibelius onslaught in the Twin Cities continues.

Osmo Vanska will conclude his ninth season as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra next month, and his constant programming of the music of Jean Sibelius has not yet been halted.

I had assumed that Vanska would begin to de-emphasize Sibelius after two or three seasons here, but such has never happened. Sibelius remains the cornerstone of Vanska’s Minneapolis repertory.

Vanska is a fine Sibelius conductor, but he is not a great one—and it becomes tiresome to read, week after week, of Vanska’s greatness in the music of his countryman, a perpetual theme of local newspaper writers.

Vanska is too fierce and too interventionist in Sibelius, just as he is too fierce and too interventionist in everything. Vanska heightens emotion to extreme, he over-emphasizes detail, and he loses the long line. Vanska’s Sibelius is Sibelius on steroids.

I have missed six of Vanska’s nine seasons in Minneapolis, having lived three of those seasons in Washington and three of those seasons in Boston. However, my poor parents have had to endure all nine Vanska seasons—and I think they have had their fill, for now, of Vanska in Sibelius.

I thought Vanska would have moved on to other 20th-Century Finnish composers by now, composers such as Einar Englund, Joonas Kokkonen, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Aulis Sallinen, all of whom would, I believe, go over well here. However, Vanska has ignored those fine composers entirely, choosing to program instead the vastly inferior Kalevi Aho, whose work Vanska has championed in Minneapolis. At least we are being spared the energizer bunny, Magnus Lindberg, whose music has a very frantic surface but is content-free.

Last evening, Joshua and I took Josh’s sister to Orchestra Hall to hear Vanska lead the Minnesota Orchestra. The centerpiece of the program was, of course, Sibelius. Last night, it was the Symphony No. 1.

The Sibelius First is a fully-mature symphony, even though the composer was to evolve significantly over the following two decades. It is a grand, noble work, with beautiful themes worked out with great mastery.

Last night’s performance unquestionably was at a very high level, but Vanska refused to allow the music to speak for itself. He played with dynamics to excess, sought out inner voices to emphasize, and altered tempi in ways that made no sense. A single pulse must be maintained within each movement, no matter the rubato, yet Vanska was all over the place in the first and fourth movements. Because of the conductor’s minute-by-minute approach to the score, the symphony lost its cumulative power. The performance was nothing more than a succession of surface effects—many of which were undeniably powerful while they were occurring.

The first half of last night’s program was devoted to Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”) and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24.

The Prokofiev was played straight, and was unobjectionable. The orchestra’s ensemble was not as clean as it should have been in the first and fourth movements. I suspect the Prokofiev had been shortchanged in rehearsal.

I disliked the Mozart.

The guest soloist was Yevgeny Sudbin, a Russian pianist who shares a record label with Vanska—and who, consequently, appears in Minneapolis too often.

Almost a year ago, Josh and I heard Sudbin play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Minnesota Orchestra. I did not know what to make of Sudbin after that concert.

Having heard Sudbin in Mozart last night, I still do not know what to make of him. Sudbin is, without doubt, a capable instrumentalist, but he has demonstrated nothing special—and no personality whatsoever—the two times I have heard him. I doubt that the music of Beethoven and Mozart shows Sudbin to best advantage. He probably should be playing flashy Russian repertory at present.

Josh’s sister enjoyed the concert.

That was very important to us, as we had had no wish to provide her with activities she would not enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Your analysis of Vanska's style is insightful and a breath of fresh air. Thank you!