Naked Classics: All About Sibelius

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Naked Classics: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony: Paul Rissmann (presenter), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Christian Kluxen (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 18.11.2011 (SRT)

Sibelius has always been a closed book to me. We all have blanks in our musical knowledge, and he is one of mine. It’s not for want of trying, but I just can’t get my head around the symphonies, and the Violin Concerto makes no sense to me at all. Consequently, a Naked Classics evening like this is ideal for someone like me, and it just about worked. Paul Rissmann’s presenting style is always accessible and he has a great ability to dissect this organic score, helpfully illustrating elements such as the way the First Movement themes grow and develop, or the dissonances of the Second Movement. What I most liked, however, was the way he structured his presentation within the context of Sibelius’ life story: he began by explaining the composer’s infamous self-doubt and with pleasing symmetry he returned to this at the end as a way of explaining the symphony’s unusual ending: maybe it’s Sibelius’ attempt to forge a distinctive musical voice for himself.

Christian Kluxen, here conducting the piece for the first time, showed impressive ability to shape the music with an eye to the long view, especially with the great spans of the outer movements. He also wasn’t afraid to go to extremes of dynamic levels, barely audible violin tremolos in the second movement but roof-raising climaxes in the finale. I guess that a Sibelius sceptic like me warmed to his confession that Sibelius takes a bit of effort to get to know (too right!) but that if you persevere then you open a door to his “big beautiful world”. I’m not a convert yet, but tonight gave me enough of a window to want to try again.

Naked Classics returns in February and April. For more details click here.

Simon Thompson