Prom 52: Finnish Radio Review SO/Nicholas Collon – The Lark Ascending as elegy rather than rural idyll | Classical music
IWith the Proms season marking a major Vaughan Williams birthday, it was inevitable that a place would be found somewhere for what is often claimed to be the nation’s favorite piece of ‘classical’ music. But few would have predicted that The Lark Ascending would be included in a concert given by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, with its principal conductor Nicholas Collonor that a Finnish violinist, Pekka Kuusistowould be the soloist.
It had also seemed unlikely beforehand that Kuusisto’s performance by Vaughan Williams would be the highlight of what otherwise turned out to be a disappointing gig. Its rather withdrawn, intimate approach, almost an improvisation spun on the slightest sonic thread, made it sound less like a rural idyll than an elegy, an exercise in nostalgia written at a time when the way of life and the world it sang were about to disappear in the maelstrom of world war.
There was also folk fiddling and birdsong in the evening’s novelty, the first UK performance of by Thomas Adès Märchentänze. Originally composed for violin and piano but orchestrated last year, these four “fairy tale dances” draw heavily on British folk tunes, which Adès combines intricately and coats with dazzling instrumental colors. The third movement, A Skylark for Jane, was originally written for solo violin, but in this version becomes a network of independent birdsong, much like the famous Epode movement of Messiaen’s Chronochromie, while the finale combines fragments of many tunes to virtuoso effect. All in all, it’s a great showcase for Kuusisto, who added a Sibelius Humoresque as an encore, dedicating it to the memories of his mother and brother, who passed away earlier this year.
In both of these works the orchestral contribution was more effective than full of character, and the works with which Collon ended the program, Debussy’s La Mer and Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, were equally unconvincing. Perhaps by its finale the Debussy was beginning to reveal its true colors after the previous movements had seemed almost hesitant, but the symphony never achieved any sort of coherence; its greatest moments – the extraordinary transition from the first movement to the scherzo; the majestic emergence of the “Swan Hymn” in the finale – seemed more disappointing than one could have ever imagined.