At their 18/19 season opening, Tampere Philharmonic and chief conductor Sattu-Matias Rouvali had decided to play it safe, with rather conventional, yet very enjoyable programme. The opening concert focused on Beethoven, with Piano Concerto No. 4 (1805-06) and Symphony No. 8 (1812) involved. In addition, there was a bit of Glinka too, namely the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila (1837-42).
Glinka’s famous overture provided a formidable kickstart for the evening. Together with his Tampere musicians, Rouvali painted the overture with bright colors and unhinged energy. Rhythmically ever sharp and upbeat, with carefully controlled balance, this was a joyous performance. Event though I wouldn’t count myself among the most ardent Glinka fans, I found myself being delightfully carried away with the music.
The transition from Russian musical proto-nationalism into the Beethoven realm wasn’t the smoothest imaginable. Of course, a concert programme can be viewed simply as a string of inspiring pieces of music. Personally, I tend to prefer a more holistic dramaturgy. In this respect, the Glinka overture remained somewhat detached from the rest of the programme.
This impression was enhanced by the obligatory stage ballet following the overture, as the concert grand was being pushed to the centre of the stage. During these ever recurring standstill moments, I often find my thoughts gradually drifting out of focus, as the musical tension evaporates. Preferably, I would have the piano in its place right from the start of the concert. I guess it would still be possible to play an overture even with this slight inconvenience involved, in order to provide a more swift musical continuum.
Be that as it may, it is always a delight to get to hear Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in concert. On the opening night, Rouvali and the Tampere Philharmonic were joined by Javier Perianes, a versatile Spanish musician with an increasingly busy career.
The concerto opens with a quasi-improvised introduction for the piano alone. From this sequence the orchestra picks out the main theme, engaging a vivid dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. As the movement proceeds, Beethoven transforms his musical material with riveting imagination, resulting in a series of unexpected twists and turns commanding the listener’s full attention.
With Perianes, the orchestra and Rouvali, the opening movement unfolded with a formidable sense of logic. The phrasing and rhythmic details were carefully worked out during rehearsals, and the balance between the soloist and the orchestral fabric was, on many occasions, ideal. Yet, with all these virtues involved, some of that quirky earthiness, ever so essential for Beethoven, was missing from the music.
The short second movement, andante con moto, is built upon an intense confrontation with the soloist and the persistent strings in unison. Gradually, the piano succeeds in soothing the strings and the music proceeds into the cathartic rondo of the finale.
In both of these movements, everything just seemed to click. There was an amazing intensity in the performance of the Tampere Philharmonic strings in the second movement, whereas the finale was a veritable tour de force for the soloist, the orchestra and the conductor.
As an encore, Perianes provided the audience with a glimpse into the universe of the Chopin Nocturnes. A delightful glimpse it was, although typically for encores, its connection with the rest of the programme remained somewhat obscure.
After the intermission, more Beethoven was to follow, namely Symphony No. 8. Alongside Symphony No. 1, the Eighth is probably Beethoven’s most Haydnesque creation. A teasing homage to his former teacher, the symphony is embedded in various forms of brilliant musical humor.
On the surface, there is the sonic comedy of bubbling bassoon lines and sudden sforzatos, whereas on a deeper level there’s a myriad of unexpected melodic and harmonic permutations. The third movement is a rough country dance disguised as a minuet.
With all these delightful elements involved, it was somewhat puzzling to find Rouvali describing the symphony as ”a plain piece with not much going on” in the programme notes. Rouvali even went further to speculate if Beethoven had run out of ideas.
Maybe these comments were intended as a mere provocation, who knows. Anyway, the performance itself contradicted these words with its spirited energy and fine detail. The opening movement was maybe a bit straightforward, but the inner movements were absolutely spot on in every aspect.
With the joyously flowing finale, the evening was brought to its delightful close. As a whole, the evening provided a fascinating journey towards the essence of Beethoven. It will be most interesting to see what will become of this journey in years to come.
Santtu-Matias Rouvali, condutor
Javier Perianes, piano
Mikhail Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila (1837-42)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1805-06)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 (1812)
Tampere Hall, Tampere, Finland
Wednesday 29 August 2018, 7 pm
c Jari Kallio