Superlative Sebastian Fagerlund double-bill with Sharon Bezaly, Tapiola Sinfonietta and Ryan Bancroft

Sharon Bezaly, Ryan Bancroft and Tapiola Sinfonietta after the world premiere of Sebastian Fagrelund’s Terral (2021) at the Tapiola Hall on Friday. © Jari Kallio

There is that certain buzz with world premieres, especially so when there’s a big piece involved, penned by an extraordinary composer, and performed by a group of fabulous musicians. All these parameters were beautifully aligned on Friday, when the flutist Sharon Bezaly, the Tapiola Sinfonietta and conductor Ryan Bancroft set forth to give the first performance of Sebastian Fagerlund’s new flute concerto, Terral (2021).

Written over the past fifteen years, or so, there are several substantial concertos in the Fagerlund oeuvre, including ones for saxophone (2004), clarinet (2004-05), violin (Darkness in Light, 2012), guitar (Transit, 2013) bassoon (Mana, 2013-14) and cello (Nomade, 2018). Joining the roster, the newcomer, Terral, is scored for solo flute, doubling alto flute, and an orchestra of solo winds, tho horns, three percussionists, harp, piano and strings.

In the course of the three-movement, the twenty-five-minute Terral, cloud formations, whirling textures and earthy rhythms are combined in dazzling ways, evoking mental imagery of desert winds, as implied by the concerto’s befitting title. The opening movement begins with a brief string breeze, followed by the composer’s trademark rhythmic gesture on the keyboard, paving the way for the weightless first entry of the solo alto flute.

Out of the soloist’s apparition-like sonic hue, musical shapes begin to take shape, interwoven with scalar patterns and drones from the orchestral instruments. Halfway through the movement, the textures grow more tactile, propelled by sublime bursts of kinetic energy. Gliding into the open, the solo flute and the orchestra are engaged in airy dances, until the music cools down into raiments of twilight, eventually disappearing into the horizon.

Marked presto, veloce, the second movement pick up speed and matter, as the solo flute navigates through rock-hewn formations of orchestral sonorities, giving rise to a spellbinding aural labyrinth. A chase scene of terrific impetus, the musical fabric is awash with glimmering instrumental lines, combined with tumultuous rhythmic drive. A transitory coda ensues, bridging into the closing movement.

A multi-faceted sonic adventure through varied musical geography, the third movement stems from the soloist’s melodic flow, building up to musical tapestry of enchanting vividness. At the core of the movement lies a splendid cadenza, a sounding oasis, with spinning flute line joined by a cello drone and sublime glimpses of harp and percussion. Picking up speed and texture, the music builds to riveting energigo, poco a poco più esalto conclusion.

A superlative world premiere performance from Bezaly, the orchestra and Bancroft, Terral was brought to life with dazzling virtuosity and dedication. The solo part was given a luminous workout, abundant with fine-tuned detail and enthralling, spell-like immediacy. Marvellously aligned with the soloist, the orchestra’s contribution was one of admirable precision and liveliness, giving rise to an almost cinematographic narrative.

In terms of texture, the musical material was unveiled with compelling shared vision, clad in ravishing colour. Ever well-shaped and eloquently phrased, the musical fabric was presented in full detail, save from one or two instances, where the solo line was briefly covered by the orchestra; a trifle detail in otherwise immaculate performance. A premiere to remember, Terral will find its way to disc as well, as a part of a future BIS records release, harvesting the fruits of Fagerlund’s 2021/2022 residency with Tapiola Sinfonietta.

The two works framing Terral could not have been more different form one another. Still, both Witold Lutosławski’s Jeux vénitiens (1961) and Robert Schumann’s Symphony (No. 4) in D minor (1841) represent equally ground-breaking attitudes towards musical form, venturing into new territories of sonic construction.

Fusing together musical ideas from both quintessentially European serial thinking and the chance procedures derived from John Cage, Lutosławski began devising his limited aleatoricism in the early sixties, first manifested in the outer movements of Jeux vénitiens. Scored for chamber orchestra, the sixteen minute Jeux vénitiens is cast in four movements, with fully notated sections and passages of limited aleatoricism combined.

Customarily to Lutosławski, the musical material is always provided in full in the score. Within the aleatory passages, the players are to deliver their parts according to their own timing, yielding to permuting contrapuntal events, framed by detailed overall structure. A combination of pre-determined and free events, Lutosławski’s method succeeds in combining solid musical logic with unique input from each ensemble, joining two traditions into one inspired musical language.

The listener, however, needs not to be informed with any theoretical analysis, for Lutosławski’s music bears unusual connectivity and sonic intensity, itself enough to cast a spell over the audiences, especially when performed with such commitment as Tapiola Sinfonietta under Bancroft. A terrific opener, Jeux vénitiens was given an electrifying outing, one rooted in uplifting instrumental dialogue and acute musicianship.

Although premiered by the Gewanhausorchester in 1841, Robert Schumann’s Symphony in D minor was only published ten years later, in a thoroughly revised guise. While the 1851 version became a repertory item, Schumann’s original was only first published in 1891, thanks to the insightful efforts of Johannes Brahms.However, it took some hundred years, before the first version was seriously considered as an alternative for performance.

Over the past thirty years, the 1841 score has won many notable advocates, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle and François-Xavier Roth, resulting in a joyful rediscovery of Schumann’s initial symphonic concept.

And what a radical concept it is! Although cast in four movements, the entire symphony is played attacca, with musical ideas shared and developed from one movement to the next, yielding to unforeseen symphonic unity. In its original version, the symphony is clad in translucent instrumental fabric, giving rise to admirable lightness and contrapuntal clarity. The most bewitching musical creation, the D minor symphony is certainly one of the finest of Schumann’s forays into the orchestra; one that calls for a virtuoso ensemble of enthusiastic musicians.

With Tapiola Sinfonietta and Bancroft, the symphony was delivered with utmost inspiration and lyricism. Schumann’s musical architecture was laid out with firm grasp of the overall form, resulting in aptly seamless sonic narrative. A combination of melodic sensitivity and contrapuntal fluidity, the performance was a joyous affair indeed.

Sebastian Fagerlund and the members of Tapiola Sinfonietta onstage at Tapiola Hall. © Jari Kallio

Following the concert proper, an autumnal afterparty ensued, in the guise of Fagerlund’s masterful octet, Autumn Equinox (2016). Scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet, the twenty-minute score is clad in raiments of twilight and deep-etched shadows. Crossing the nocturnal threshold into a dream-quest, there are substantial links between the octet and Fagerlund’s second opera Autumn Sonata, including the second movement’s re-setting of one of the arias from the stagework for solo viola and ensemble.

In contrast to the contemplative central Lento misterioso, the outer movements stem from vigorous, even vehement rhythmic dialogue, manifested in admirable instrumental writing and exquisite sequences of harmonic invention.

Absolutely nailed by the Tapiola Sinfonietta musicians, the performance of Autumn Equinox was simply phenomenal, awash with resplendent autumn colours and bittersweet sonic imagery. A gripping mircocosm of instrumental story-telling, the octet provided the evening with the most wonderful conclusion. With further performances and world premieres ahead, Fagerlund’s Tapiola residency is one to follow with keen interest.

Tapiola Sinfonietta

Ryan Bancroft, condutor

Sharon Bezaly, flute

Witold Lutosławski: Jeux vénitiens (1961) for orchestra

Sebastian Fagerlund: Terral (2021) – Concerto for flute and orchestra

Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor (1841)

Sebastian Fagerlund: Octet ’Autumn Equinox’ (2016) for clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet

Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland

Friday 24 September 2021, 7 pm

© Jari Kallio

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