Fabulous Ginastera and inspired Schumann with Sivan Magen, the Tampere Philharmonic and André de Ridder

Sivan Magen, André de Ridder and the Tampere Philharmonic performing Ginastera at Tampere Hall on Friday. © Jari Kallio

Uncertainty has become an inseparable part of the concert life during the pandemic. While many European countries are entering into a second lockdown in November, concerts in Finland keep going, to our enormous fortune. 

Concert programming, however, is in a constantly transforming state, due travel restrictions and safety measures applied. According to the original plan, the Tampere Philharmonic would have performed Kaija Saariaho’s harp concerto Trans (2015) as the centerpiece of their latest programme, with André de Ridder conducting and Xavier de Maistre as soloist. 

While the conductor made it from Berlin to Tampere, the soloist was forced to cancel, due scheduling problems arising from quarantine requirements. Gladly, the Israeli harpist Sivan Magen stepped in, performing Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto (1956) instead. 

Although the loss of the Saariaho concerto was regrettable, the chance to hear the Ginastera in concert was the most welcome substitute. 

In our Eurocentric repertoire, music of the Americas, and especially the Latin American composers have been mostly sidetracked, apart from few exceptions. Over the past couple of years, the tide has been turning, somewhat, resulting in the most intriguing discoveries, including a wonderful performance of Ginastera’s Variations concertantes (1953) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel at the Barbican Centre last November. 

Ginastera’s fabulous Harp Concerto is a piece transition, where the composers two creative periods overlap, yielding to a fascinating fusion of folk-inspired nationalism and various modernist tendencies. In many ways, the concerto comes off à la Béla Bartók, albeit in a genuinely Ginasterian vein. 

The three-movement concerto is based on a fast-slow-fast scheme, with an extended cadenza laughing the closing movement. The outer movements are upbeat and colourful, with sonorous harmonies clad in alluring rhythms. The slow central movement is a ravishing nocturnal soundscape, worthy of Bartók’s night musics. 

Scored for a classical orchestra with duple winds and brass, with extensive percussion section and a celesta added, Ginastera’s concerto is a feast of colour, with the astounding solo part augmented by brilliant orchestral scoring. 

The allegro giusto opening movement is conceived an an arch beginning and ending with the solo harp exploring its highest registers. In between, a tableau clad in folk-derived rhythms and harmonies unravels, with thrilling dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. 

Magen, de Ridder and the Tampere Philharmonic teamed well for the first movement, with the musical lines ever in aptly balanced and the rhythms beautifully articulated. 

The slow central movement, marked molto moderato, opens with fugal string textures setting the stage for a night-scene. The harp enters, leading the listener into a fantasy-realm, clad in nocturnal shades. Performed with sublime intensity by Magen, the orchestra and de Ridder, the slow movement was the highlight of the evening. 

The gorgeous solo cadenza, played with enthralling magic by Magen, paved the way for the finale proper. Launched by stunning percussion textures, the closing movement is a veritable tour-de-force, with both the soloist and the orchestra entangled in a stupendous rhythmic maze.

Performed with energetic vigor and splendid musicianship, the closing movement was a delight. Base on the enthusiastic response by the full house (with safety distances applied), this outstanding concerto would deserve to be programmed a bit more often. Hearing it in spirited performance by Magen, de Ridder and the Tampere Philharmonic was a happy affair indeed. 

Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 (1845-46) is one of the finest symphonies in the repertoire. The composer’s initial inspiration for the symphony was provided by Franz Schubert’s Symphony in C major (1825-26), which he himself had discovered upon a visit to Schubert’s brother in Vienna, contributing to its belated premiere with Mendelssohn and the Gewandhausorchester. 

In addition, Mozart’s final contribution to the genre, Symphony in C major, KV 551 (1788) must have been luring in the background, leading Schumann to describe his new symphony being ”quite a Jupiter”. 

Schumann first mentioned his inspiration for ”trumpets in C” in a letter to Mendelssohn in September 1845. The actual work on the symphony began in December and continued until the next fall, with the score completed in the last days of October 1846, just a week before its premiere.

Cast in four movements, a sonata-allegro first movement opens the symphony, with a sostenuto assai introduction. A dexterous scherzo ensues, with two trios embedded. The third movement is a gorgeous adagio espressivo, followed by a stormy allegro motto vivace finale. 

André de Ridder and the Tampere Philharmonic after Schumann Symphony No. 2 at Tampere Hall. © Jari Kallio

For its performers, the symphony provides quite a challenge. The string parts are awash with tricky, rapid passages, requiring solid technique and utmost concentration. The airy wind passages are filled with rhythmic caveats, as are the horn parts. The scoring for trumpets, trombones and timpani is far from mere coloristic effects, requiring full-on contribution throughout the symphony. 

For a conductor, the art of balancing is of essential importance, in order to make Schumann’s marvellous textures shine, especially when performing the symphony in a modern-instrument setting. In addition, the phrasing must convey the singing quality ever so essential to Schumann, while maintaining rhythmic integrity. 

Having heard the symphony in two outstanding performances recently, first with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra in March 2018 and then by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in March 2019, the bar was set quite high before the Friday evening performance.   

With de Ridder on the podium, the Tampere Philharmonic provided an inspiring performance lifting up the hearts at the Tampere Hall. Seated quite close to the stage, the opening introduction seemed to lack some of its optimal clarity, but I would imagine it sounding off just fine in the middle seats. 

The main body of the first movement, a vehement allegro ma non troppo was filled with engaged musicality, to a rousing effect. Although begun with a false start, the scherzocame off beautifully, with the most wonderful woodwind lines hovering over the marvellously laid-out string textures. Astoundingly coloured and deepened by the brass and timpani, the scherzo was a joy. 

In similar vein, the slow movement was clad in exquisite orchestral hue, with the aching solo lines fabulously articulated. The sonic architecture of the finale was well conceived by de Ridder, with the music bursting into full bloom from the first bars on, building up to its dramatic full-stop in the middle. Rebuilding from scratch, the music headed towards it conclusion with excellent stubbornness, to a memorable effect. 

A fine evening indeed, the privilege and delight of hearing inspired live performances was tangible at Tampere Hall, as demonstrated by the rejoicing closing applauses. music makes us thrive.  

Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra

André de Ridder, conductor

Sivan Magen, harp

Alberto Ginastera: Harp Concerto, Op. 25 (1956)

Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 (1845-46)

Tampere Hall, Tampere

Friday 30 October 2020, 7 pm

© Jari Kallio

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