Sweeping Sibelius

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LighthousePoole, South-West, BH15 1UG, United Kingdom
On Wednesday 11 January 2017 at 19:30

The Fifth ranks as one of Sibelius’ two most popular symphonies. It has an epic quality, a sweep and grandeur which triumphs over passing feelings of anxiety to celebrate the heroic, optimistic power of life. He achieves a striking richness of sound with a normal-size orchestra, in sharp contrast to the gigantic ensembles called for by such contemporaries as Strauss and Mahler. It opens in an atmosphere of mysterious beauty – you might imagine time-lapse photography of wildflowers unfolding in a vast landscape, whilst all manner of brilliant writing fills the finale, such that by the time this remarkable work reaches its conclusion in six expansive, powerful chords you can only agree with the composer’s description of it as “triumphal.” Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto abounds in his signature lyricism. After the strong, bold opening, the music unfolds episodically in a series of graceful melodic interludes and an angst-ridden, turbulent narrative. Tchaikovsky places heavy demands on the pianist, requiring great virtuosity and an exceptional warmth of tone, and brings the concerto to a close in an exhilarating display of orchestral pyrotechnics. Brahms’ overture opens with two emphatic chordal exclamations, following which, with timpani vibrating ominously, unison strings intone the austere main theme – a simple, touching march. A magnificent energy that presses through the outer portions of the work has a defiant strength whose force is heightened by the return of the poignant little march idea, defining the “Tragic” of the overture even more potently than all the muscular thrust before and after it.

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