Paavo Järvi demonstrates his affinity with the frozen north

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Nielsen, Sibelius, Prokofiev: Hilary Hahn (violin), Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich / Paavo Järvi (conductor). Tonhalle, Zurich, 22.9.2022. (JR)

Hilary Hahn (c) O.J. Slaughter

Nielsen – Overture to Maskerade
Sibelius – Violin Concerto, Op.47
Prokofiev – Symphony No.5, Op.100

Few music-lovers, I suspect, outside Denmark have heard and/or seen the whole of Nielsen’s opera, Maskerade, but the overture is a not infrequent and entertaining curtain-raiser in concert. It is a mere five minutes of effervescent jollity, with some bombast for the brass.  Nielsen’s symphonies are well known and, now that Paavo Järvi is nearing the completion of his Bruckner cycle, may we hope for some of Nielsen’s fine symphonies?

From Denmark we moved north and east across the Baltic Sea to Finland, and Sibelius. Renowned American violinist Hilary Hahn has recorded the Sibelius concerto with Esa-Pekka Salonen and she has a clear interpretation of the work. Not as fiery or fast as some, but a thoughtful, slow, brooding version. Järvi began extremely quietly to allow the violin to emerge from the mist. Sibelius had been a violinist and knew the challenges for the instrument – plenty of double-stopping and harmonics, Hahn on top of them all. Her delicacy in the Adagio and boisterous abandon in the Finale were notable; the audience were under her spell throughout. In the orchestra, Michael von Schönermark stood out as ‘extra’ bassoon principal. Järvi contributed some rugged lumps of Sibelian granite to the mix. Second concertmaster Peter McGuire ably led the hard-working first violins. It was a fine performance all round, very warmly received, so we were rewarded with not one, but two spellbinding Bach encores.

And finally, to Russia and what many consider Prokofiev’s finest symphony. It is very much a war symphony, written in 1944, after a 16-year pause in the composer’s symphonic oeuvre. The symphony is full of dark energy and gunfire. The percussion section stood out; from Christian Hartmann on timpani, to the virile thumping of the bass drum (Benjamin Forster), the side drum elegantly played by Andreas Berger and Klaus Schwärzler giving the hard percussion and gong a real bashing. There was no holding back. It was all, rightly, very loud, as war is; the sound of guns booming was unmistakable. Järvi made no attempt to prettify the score, the second movement full of macabre sounds and martial tread, Shostakovich springing to mind. The funeral march in the Adagio reminded us vividly of the sorrows of war. The clarinet of ‘extra’ Francesco Negrini towered over everyone, and he was picked out immediately at the end by the conductor. Matvey Demin’s flute and Simon Fuchs’s oboe also often caught the ear.

The whirlwind Finale raced ahead to its triumphal conclusion, Järvi making the most of every discordance, and bringing us much detail which one does not hear in every performance, especially if heard on the radio or even CD.

Järvi’s deep affinity with the music of Scandinavia and neighbouring Russia was evident for all.

John Rhodes

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