Rattle conducts Sibelius – Symphony no.7, in the last of a three-concert residency from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, performing all the composer’s symphonies
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle – Barbican Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 12 February 2015.
Listening link (opens in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 13 March
For those unable to hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify link. Sir Simon has not recorded this piece with the Berlin Philharmonic, but this is a recording he made with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for EMI (track 6):
What’s the music?
Sibelius – Symphony no.7 in C major, Op.105 (1924) (22 minutes)
What about the music?
This symphony is a remarkable piece of work that reveals more and more with each subsequent listen. Initially it can seem too simple in its melodic material or too dense in the sheer amount of ideas, but in fact it is an amazingly self-contained unit, like a single long melody lasting for just over twenty minutes.
Sibelius worked on it at the same time as his Sixth Symphony, hence the reason for Rattle performing the two together without a break – but the recommendation (from here at least!) is to make the most of each piece on separate terms.
In my mind’s eye I often feel as though this piece is a seascape, with the spray almost tangible to the touch. The music is brooding at times, and its complex harmonies can twist the human response, but it is an overwhelmingly positive way in which to finish a symphonic cycle. And how better to finish than with a C major chord, regarded as the purest in all music?
Rattle’s interpretation of the Seventh would appear to be spot-on tempo-wise, and as is the conductor’s wont it picks apart the structure to highlight all the different themes the composer uses – yet is always moving forward to the next musical ‘signpost’.
In each of the three occurrences of the trombone theme he stresses its heroic quality, and the overall impression of the symphony is a positive, resilient one.
What should I listen out for?
The symphony is in a single section, and though it is possible to break it in to constituent parts, it is so compressed and tightly bound together that is it best to listen to it as a single whole.
1:31:24 – a single timpani roll ushers in an ascending scale on the lower strings. Already the music is noticeably broader than the Sixth Symphony.
1:32:13 – the wind play a relatively distant figure that assumes great importance as the symphony progresses.
1:36:43 – the strings swell to a rousing theme on the trombones, just about rising above the whole orchestra.
1:41:00 – now the music is speeding up, with the strings adopting a similar figure to that found in faster moments of the Sixth Symphony.
1:41:52 – the swirl of the violins gets gradually slower, until 1:42:11, where the trombones return with their tune, now more isolated.
1:43:43 – the quicker theme returns on the woodwind.
1:48:21 – the ascending scale from the opening of the work simmers, but there is a tension between two different speeds before the trombone theme returns at 1:48:40.
1:51:43 – the final section, which ends with what seems the simplest resolution at 1:53:02.
Want to hear more?
After the Symphony no.7 – if you’re on Spotify – keep listening and you will hear another of Sibelius’s orchestral ‘tone poems’ – that is, an orchestral piece that describes a particular story or event. This one, Nightride and Sunrise, is not so well known, but is a descriptive work that draws on an unknown sequence of events for the composer.
For more concerts click here