Lieu : Helsinki

Gustavo Gimenez/conductor
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Gustavo Gimeno in Britten and Shostakovich with the Finnish RSO

One of the most immediately appealing aspects of cellist Tomas Nuñez-Garcés' performance was his understated confidence and assured virtuosity. Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich were two of the greatest composers of the 20th century. In addition to being  admirers of  each other's work, they also shared a common link with one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century: Mstislav Rostropovich. This evening's program featured one of Shostakovich's most popular and accessible ...
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Osmo Vänskä’s Americana with the Helsinki Philharmonic

Soloist Jonathan Roozeman handled Barber's fearsome technical demands with ease, particularly the seemingly inhuman left-hand acrobatics required in the outer movements.  One of the highlights of the current Helsinki Philharmonic season is the focus on American composers, giving Helsinki audiences the opportunity to sample repertoire infrequently performed in this corner of the world. Samuel Barber's music is firmly established in the American repertoire and was represented with his early First Symphony and wartime Concerto for ...
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Relishing the extremes : Hannu Lintu in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 with the Finnish RSO

Both Lintu and the orchestra pulled out all the stops in the sprawling final movement.  The winters are long and dark in Finland. Coincidence or not, Mahler's Symphony No. 6, the composer's bleakest, seems to be performed on an annual basis in Helsinki. Whatever the reason, this work gives orchestras and conductors ample opportunity to display their technical prowess, physical and emotional stamina, and interpretive insight. Lintu's take on the opening march was ...
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Intensité claire de Mälkki dans la n° 9 de Mahler à Helsinki

A Helsinki, la vision de Susanna Mälkki sur le dernier chef-d’œuvre qu'a pu achever Gustav Mahler se concentre sur un contrôle serré associé à une intensité claire et non sentimentale. A l'approche de la fin de sa deuxième saison en tant que directrice musicale de l'Orchestre philharmonique d'Helsinki, Susanna Mälkki a exploré un large éventail de répertoires, allant des chevaux de bataille à un programme plus aventureux d’œuvres contemporaines. La Symphonie ...
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In Helsinki, Mälkki’s cool-headed intensity in Mahler’s No. 9

Susanna Mälkki's take on Mahler's final completed masterpiece focused on tight control coupled with clear, unsentimental intensity. Nearing the end of her second year as music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki has explored a broad range of repertoire, from warhorses to challenging contemporary fare. Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is one of the great monuments of the symphonic literature, and the work’s forbidding technical and emotional challenges are the ...
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Passionate and virtuosic : Tianwa Yang in Britten’s Violin Concerto

Yang brought a devilish and almost unhinged quality to the dancing second movement of Britten's Violin Concerto, which further highlighted her amazing virtuosity. The current Helsinki season has been almost an embarrassment of riches for lovers of Britten's Violin Concerto. Several weeks ago, Helsinki audiences were treated to Vilde Frang's arguably definitive and breathtaking account of this masterpiece with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Expectations were naturally high to hear Tianwa Yang's ...
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The sea in many forms: the Finnish premiere of Matthew Whittall’s piano concerto

Matthew Whittall's new piano concerto, Nameless Seas, was effective in evoking not only literal but also metaphorical feelings of the sea. Respighi is best known for his ecstatically colorful symphonic portraits of Rome, which are textbook demonstrations of orchestral brilliance. Respighi's orchestration of Bach's D major Prelude and Fugue is further evidence of the Italian composer's orchestral wizardry. Particularly striking in the opening Prelude was Respighi's ability to closely mimic the colors of an organ within an orchestral soundworld; this was ...
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Par excellence : Vilde Frang in Britten’s Violin Concerto

Vilde Frang may have some tough competition, but she could just be the interpreter par excellence of Britten's Violin Concerto.  In the past decade or so, frequent performances and new recordings of Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto seem to be solidifying its stature as one of the truly great 20th-century violin concertos, worthy of the same attention as Sibelius and Shostakovich. Vilde Frang's breathtaking and urgent performance this evening undoubtedly earned this work many new admirers. Berlioz' Le Carnaval Romain opened the concert, ...
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Top class : Renée Fleming and Sakari Oramo at the Helsinki Festival

This evening's performance of Nielsen's Symphony No. 2 provided further evidence that the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra belongs in the top echelon of the world's great orchestras.  Sakari Oramo is currently Chief Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (RSPO) and is well-known to Finnish audiences from his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. This evening's performance gave Oramo an opportunity to showcase the RSPO to his hometown audience; the ...
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Finnish premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto

At least on this first hearing, Salonen's new Cello Concerto seemed confident and uncertain at the same time. This evening's concert marked the opening of Esa-Pekka Salonen's second season as Artist-in-Association with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. It seemed only appropriate that the program literally played to all of Salonen's strengths: Ravel, Stravinsky, and of course, himself. The program began with a Ravel staple, Le Tombeau de Couperin. Immediately apparent from the opening moments was the effortless, ...
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Sakari Oramo in Elgar’s Symphony No. 2

Sakari Oramo did not hesitate in bringing Elgar's unabashedly passionate and emotional elements to the fore.  During his tenure as principal conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (RSPO), Sakari Oramo has devoted considerable attention to the music of Anders Hillborg and Edward Elgar. In this evening’s performance, Oramo took the podium in front of his former band to showcase these composers. Hillborg’s Beast Sampler refers to the composer’s description of the ...
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Broadly : Kent Nagano in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8

Nagano's performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8, while abundant in individual highlights, was not quite a fully convincing interpretation of this massive work. Anton Bruckner is arguably the perfect example of a composer whose music does not simply "play itself." Bruckner's symphonies are unhurried, majestic, imposing, and, of course, fervently religious. Only an interpreter who has considered these aspects carefully can successfully transform these lengthy works from seemingly protracted to transcendent. Against this backdrop, ...
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Exploring the depths : Osmo Vänskä in Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4

Osmo Vänskä is unrivaled in his ability (and willingness) to explore the deepest depths of Sibelius' Symphony No. 4.  Osmo Vänskä earned himself and his former band (the Lahti Symphony Orchestra) international recognition with his series of Sibelius and Kalevi Aho recordings. Authoritative performances of these two composers was expected from this evening's performance, and Vänskä and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra did not disappoint. The program opened with one of the Estonian composer Arvo ...
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Truls Mørk’s noble Schelomo with the Helsinki Philharmonic

Truls Mørk brought nobility to Schelomo's lamenting qualities. The current, inaugural season of Susanna Mälkki's tenure as music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (HKO) is focused considerably on 20th-century French orchestral music, which has allowed both orchestra and conductor to develop and explore the unique sound palette of this repertoire. This evening's concert continued this trend, presenting colorful works from both the 20th and 21st centuries, from France and from elsewhere. Leevi Madetoja was ...
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Herbert Blomstedt in Sibelius and Beethoven

This was undoubtedly one of the great performances of Sibelius' Symphony No. 4. Herbert Blomstedt is approaching his 90th birthday and is showing no signs of slowing down. A quick look at his busy conducting schedule shows a deep commitment to the Austro-Germanic and Scandinavian repertoire, so expectations were naturally high in this evening's program of Sibelius and Beethoven. The program opened with the darkly introverted Symphony No. 4 by Sibelius. Based on this evening's account, ...
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Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6

Throughout the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 6, careful attention was given to accents, articulations, and dynamics, along with a clear focus on orchestrational detail. Susanna Mälkki's recent performances with her new band, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, have generally presented a mix of the old and the new. While Mälkki might have a bit of a reputation as a new music specialist, she is equally at home in the great ...
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All-British with the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Janne Nisonen

After Sakari Oramo, Janne Nisonen could very well be the next great Finnish interpreter of British music.  Orchestral programs dedicated entirely to British music are rare in the Helsinki region, so this evening's concert of Adès, Britten, and Vaughan Williams likely gave many listeners the chance to explore this music for the first time. The program opened with Thomas Adès Three Studies from Couperin, a set of orchestrations of selected Couperin harpsichord works. ...

Focus on Shakespeare : The Tempest by Osmo Vänskä in Helsinki

The performance  of The Tempest by Osmo Vänskä and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra was a true celebration of some of Sibelius' most forward-looking music. The work of Shakespeare and his influence on the arts has received intense attention this year, the 400th anniversary of his death. On this evening's program, Osmo Vänskä and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra presented two musical perspectives on Shakespeare by Finnish composers of the past and ...
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Death and Transcendencev : Robert Spano and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

Robert Spano led a taut and disciplined performance of Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead.  The subjects of death and the beyond have certainly fascinated many artists, both past and present. Among composers, one famous example would of course be Richard Strauss' Tod und Verklärung. In this evening's program, the American conductor Robert Spano led the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in two Russian, romantic-era perspectives on death, concluding with Messiaen's transcendent L'ascension. Rachmaninoff's The ...
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Sir Mark Elder in Britten and Shostakovich

Elder's performance of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem could become a reference. There may not be many obvious stylistic similarities between the orchestral works of Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich. Nevertheless, both composers sought to communicate immediately and directly with their audiences, while adhering to traditional concepts such as harmony, rhythm, and the symphony as a form. In this evening's program, Sir Mark Elder succinctly described these particular qualities in his opening remarks, before ...
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Susanna Mälkki’s opening concert as Music Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic

Perhaps the most memorable part of this evening was the palpable sense of joy that was radiating from the stage. Readers of my reviews from Susanna Mälkki’s recent concerts with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO) have probably noticed that I have not I been shy in my praise of her performances. Before getting into the details, I will say right now that this evening’s concert, Mälkki’s first as Music Director of the ...
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Salonen brings Chéreau’s Elektra to Helsinki

Soprano Evelyn Herlitzius brought the necessary vocal agility and endurance to this impossibly demanding role. Opera lovers in Finland have been eagerly waiting for Esa-Pekka Salonen to bring Patrice Chéreau's now famous production of Strauss' Elektra to the Helsinki. This current run of Elektra performances marks the first project for Salonen under his newly appointed position as Artist in Association of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet (FNOB). A soprano of near super-human ability is required for the ...
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Susanna Mälkki conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic in Sibelius and Prokofiev

Susanna Mälkki's recent programs with her future band, the Helsinki Philharmonic, have featured healthy portions of standard repertory. This is probably reassuring to the segment of the audience that might be apprehensive of Mälkki's reputation as a new-music specialist. Tonight's program of warhorses by two well-known composers not only demonstrated that Mälkki embraces the standard repertory, but also has something unique to say about it. The program opened with a Sibelius rarity, ...
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Mikko Franck at home in Rautavaara, Prokofiev, and Debussy

I cannot imagine a better, more definitive performance of this music. Despite Mikko Franck's presence in the Helsinki music scene as both artistic and general director of the Finnish National Opera until 2013, in recent years he has been conspicuously absent from the podium of the main Helsinki orchestras. Based on this evening's performance, one certainly hopes that Franck will come back very soon. While I admit that my knowledge of Rautavaara's ...
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Happy 150th birthday, Jean Sibelius!

Without a doubt, this was one of the great En Saga performances.  It has certainly been a busy year for Finland’s favorite musical son. Although Sibelius’ is a regular fixture in the Finnish musical scene, this year has seen Sibelius-admiration taken to the next level (and beyond). Numerous complete symphony cycles, several competitions, books, a new documentary series, examinations of obscure works, seminars, museum exhibitions, you name it--if it has to do ...
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All-Finnish with John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic

Storgårds was able to find the elusive balance between presence and clarity. Music by living Finnish composers is an important part of programming for the Helsinki Philharmonic. While the "big three" composers Lindberg, Saariaho, and Salonen receive fairly regular performances, the Helsinki Philharmonic also ensures that lesser-known Finnish composers have their orchestral works performed in concert. On this evening's program, the Helsinki Philharmonic presented two new works by Finnish composers along ...
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All-Russian with Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic

With Mälkki on the podium, the Helsinki Philharmonic has to be heard to be believed. The appointment of Susanna Mälkki as the next music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic has been met with an almost overwhelming sense of elation among Helsinki audiences. Nevertheless, there may be a sense of fear in some corners that contemporary music will be featured even more prominently with Mälkki on the podium. A brief review ...
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Original Sibelius and an Aho premiere: Hannu Lintu and the Finnish RSO

Sibelius is getting the royal treatment in his home country this year, as the music world celebrates the 150th birthday of the great composer. While performances of the usual suspects (the symphonies and the most popular tone poems) are found in abundance in Finland this year, the Finnish RSO has decided to take a different approach to the celebrations by presenting earlier versions of established masterpieces. At least based ...
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Inspired by Italy: John Storgårds conducts Mendelssohn and Sibelius

A sense of refinement permeated Storgårds interpretation of the opening movement. Italy has long been a source of inspiration for diverse composers both from the past and present. In this evening's program, conductor John Storgårds continued his season-long survey of the Sibelius symphonies, coupled with Mendelssohn's symphonic reflections on Italy. Mendelssohn's music is considered by many to be largely free of angst and conflict; his Symphony No. 4 (also known as his ...
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Finnish premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Second Piano Concerto

Nicolas Hodges brought a degree of refinement and grace to Lindberg's often percussive writing. Magnus Lindberg's tenure as composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic resulted in several new works, including his second piano concerto. Dedicated to Yefim Bronfman, the concerto was clearly conceived with Bronfman's imposing virtuosity in mind. Similar to the other works from Lindberg's New York tenure, the second piano concerto radiates with both exuberance and joy. One of the ...