What I have experienced multiple times with Tapiola Sinfonietta and with Pekka Kuusisto, and today with both, is that no matter how high your expectations are, these players will always outperform them. There is no such a thing as disappointment with these artists: they are committed to the music with attention to the outcome, to its impact on the listener, to the effect their performance will have in the space. With success.

Tapiola Sinfonietta © Antti Kangassalo
Tapiola Sinfonietta
© Antti Kangassalo

Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin is almost onomatopoeic, the orchestra’s focus being on impulses more than on notes. The four movements unravel in a sequence of atmospheres conveying a wide array of moods, from tranquillity to sweetness, from melancholy to aggression. The common denominator is a spread positiveness, suggested by the predominantly major harmonies. I find it interesting to consider how this compositional choice relates to Ravel’s approach to death, given that he dedicated each movement to a friend deceased in World War I.

Dances are at the heart of Kirmo Lintinen’s Clarinet Concerto as well, outstandingly performed by soloist Harri Mäki. The movements unwind in a series of melodies recalling folk tunes, and rhythms suggesting the composer’s involvement with jazz music. Particularly amusing is the second movement, bouncing from a hint of a tango to a clue of a waltz and hopping onto furious mediaeval-sounding dances.

Across the “Prefazione”, the “Danze”, the “Confessione with Cadenza” and the “Finale”, Mäki tells a story through his clarinet. His beautiful sound blends into colors, melodies, rhythmic exchanges with the orchestra, and silences; at times he glances at the audience like a raconteur glimpses at an audience of children listeners, to mildly check on the impact of his words.

Different in energy and presence, yet just as charming, is the leader–conductor Pekka Kuusisto. His body movements on stage and the musical interactions between him and the orchestra leave room to imagine that mutual trust and inspiration are everlasting, and that his conducting consists more in empowering his colleagues than in leading them through his own musical ideas.

The concert concludes after an interpretation of Sibelius’ Third Symphony so faithful that only Finnish musicians could have produced it. With their typically national modesty, this orchestra has the power to render honest and transparent even the most grandiose theme. Particularly enjoyable was the second movement, Sibelius’ masterpiece in showing in how many ways it is possible to play, hide, modify or chop a theme, and filter it through the lens, rules and practices of different musical eras.

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