Galvanising Performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto by Janine Jansen

22/10/2016

Mahler, Sibelius, Beethoven: Janine Jansen (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Usher Hall, 21.10.2016. (SRT)

Mahler – Blumine; What the Wild Flowers Tell Me (arr. Britten)

Sibelius – Violin Concerto

Beethoven – Symphony No. 7

Thomas Søndergård is conducting three concerts with the RSNO this year. Each one consist of Mahler, Sibelius and Beethoven, and only Mahler, Sibelius and Beethoven. It’s a good idea for a concert strand, and he opened it tonight with a side of Mahler that we don’t often hear: an intricate, soloistic soundscape that’s full of delicacy and lighter on its feet than you mostly expect from this composer. Blumine, in particular, was beautifully shaded, seeming to dissolve into air in its final phrase, and featured a knockout solo from Christopher Hart, the orchestra’s new principal trumpet, who played his tune with crystalline brightness and, for me, a refreshing touch of the Yorkshire band. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was rather well-behaved to being with, but Søndergård found a new gear with the lurches that began the first movement’s development, and the Allegretto flowed beautifully, with a surging sense of melancholy to it, though the Scherzo and finale sounded a little workmanlike to me.

The highlight of the evening was hearing Janine Jansen playing Sibelius’ violin concerto, however. It’s a concerto I’ve struggled to love in the past because it has often struck me as frosty and detached; but it’s hard to hold that view when you hear the way Jansen throws herself into it. The soloist’s way with the first theme, for example, was intensely felt, not chilly, and the intensity of Jansen’s commitment was galvanising, not just for the audience but for the orchestra who repeatedly rose to meet her, most powerfully in the big string climaxes of the slow movement. The colour of her playing was universal, but was most impressive in the richness of the lower registers, making the sensational, long, low line of the beginning of the Adagio the highlight of the performance.  She then leaned (sometimes physically!) into every phrase of the finale, making this the most colourful and energetic performance of the concerto I think I’ve ever heard.  This was one of those performances that makes you hear a piece with fresh ears.

Simon Thompson

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