Like Sakari Oramo, Susanna Mälkki, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, among others, Jan Söderblom is another talented Finnish conductor whose career began as an instrumentalist. In this concert, Söderblom led the Tapiola Sinfonietta from the concertmaster’s chair in a highly varied program for string orchestra.
The opening piece of the program was the most challenging for both performers and audiences. Despite being the first work he composed for orchestral forces, Pettersson’s Concerto No. 1 for String Orchestra demands virtuosity from all the performers. The abrasive outer movements were somewhat subdued, perhaps due to cautiousness or a desire to bring out the composer’s vigorous counterpoint. The second movement was the most convincingly performed, with the music’s disturbing insistence and quasi-Mahlerian breadth brought clearly to the fore. While a little more rehearsal time would have been helpful for this very difficult music, it was a convincing performance overall.
The following two works featured the evening’s soloist, French flautist Loïc Schneider. Charles Tomlinson Griffes has been called an American impressionist. Listening to his Poem, one is reminded of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ravel, in particular Daphnis et Chloe. However, the music’s eastern and sometimes assertive flavor, along with the central folk dance episode, suggests that the impressionist title is rather simplistic.
The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra by André Jolivet featured two-movements, both similarly structured: a slow opening, where the solo flute floats above a beautifully consonant string background, followed by an allegro of jaunty, contrapuntal, and somewhat angular music. A bit of impish humor can be detected in the first movement allegro, while some stylistic similarities to the Pettersson are heard in the corresponding allegro of the second movement. Schneider was a confident soloist in both works, evoking a beautifully misty nocturne in the Poem while handily dispatching the virtuosic allegros in the Jolivet.
After some challenging opening courses, in particular the Pettersson and Jolivet, Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings felt like a simple, sweet dessert.