The Philharmonic Orchestra from Helsinki at the Herkulessaal
When the brass tutti booms dramatically, the double bass section rages below the surface as dark as night and violins and trumpets finally soar to ecstatic splendour, then one understands well why Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia has become Finland’s second national anthem. Passed back and forth between Sweden and Russia and ultimately humiliated as a brutally ruled protectorate of the Tsar, for Finland the symphonic tone poem was at first the secret battle song, then the victory fanfare “Suomi” of the indelibly individual identity of a country which now has excellent music schools.
You could hear that immediately with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra at the Herkulessaal. Its quality was apparent not only in the magisterial brilliance of the tutti but also in the wide range of contrasts. Particularly in the Petrushka burlesque by Stravinsky, in which the Russian composer unpacks the entire sonic tool box of his steely poetry, the details were impressive – from the faces of the noisy carnival to Petrushka’s quiet death, from the strident brass and insistent percussion to the deathly sfumato. It also became apparent that Chief Maestro John Storgårds is not only a podium player with passionate enthusiasm but a well-versed expert in Modernism, with Peter Maxwell Davies and the Finnish contemporary composers Rautavaara, Tiensuu and Madetoja in his repertoire. Between the two works, Arabella Steinbacher captivated listeners with Max Bruch’s immortal violin hit, the G minor Concerto. She began the first movement with rhapsodic fervour, but in the Adagio she acknowledged the melodist Max Bruch with voluptuous lyricism and exquisite tone in the upper register.
Afterwards there was vigorous double-stop virtuosity in the Finale, a flawless crescendo line from the mysterious viola opening to the entrance of the soloist and a spirited presto stretto, with an at times somewhat too loud orchestral forte that put pressure on the violin. The enthusiastic applause was rewarded with a virtuosic miniature by Eugène Ysaÿe.
Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.02.14