Sibelius Symphony no.2 in D major Op.43 (1901-2)
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich / Paavo Järvi
Grosser Saal, Tonhalle, Zürich
Tuesday 5 April 2022
Written by (and photos below) Ben Hogwood
Sometimes a single work in a classical concert is enough – especially if that work has the lasting power of Sibelius’s Second Symphony.
Paavo Järvi certainly thought so, programming the 45-minute work as part of a concert celebrating the visit of the annual IAMA conference. IAMA – International Artist Managers’ Association – is a vital industry body representing the interests not just of artist managers but of artists themselves, liaising with creative spaces such as the resplendent, refurbished Zürich Tonhalle. Their conference moves around Europe, so a visit from them is a great opportunity for the ‘host’ city to exhibit their creative wares.
The Tonhalle-Orchester did that in this concert with some aplomb, performing as they were in a venue opened by Brahms himself in 1895. The composer appears as part of a mural (partially visible in the photograph above) on the ceiling in the resplendent company of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Gluck. Sibelius was too late for inclusion, of course.
In their company, his Second Symphony received a performance of poise and power, the music on occasion appearing to issue from the very earth beneath our feet. This was most notable in the second movement, whose sequence of tempo changes and shifts of mood was the defining feature of this performance. The Tonhalle-Orchester wind shone out, especially the bassoon’s main theme, while the double basses and cellos used their wonderful grainy sound to provide the most solid undercarriage for the white-hot exchanges above.
The orchestra are a technical powerhouse, their ensemble well-nigh perfect, as was demonstrated in the unity of the strings’ pizzicato in the second movement, and the cushioned, velvety tones with which the work began, a similar effect to waves lapping the shore of a lake.
After the emotional tumult of the second movement the third sprang forward almost in alarm, scurrying figures nervously bouncing off each other until the gradual crescendo to the start of the finale itself. This was carefully managed, and although you could argue Järvi and his charges peaked too soon they just kept getting louder and ever more exultant, aiming always at the end goal. The orchestra forged a fiery path, propelled by the lower strings but with searing contributions from brass and wind, not to mention rumbling timpani, all these elements once again tracing back to the earth itself.
Järvi led his charges with clear, largely cool direction, though his love of the music was clear in more animated sections, driving the orchestra on. They responded with clear and obvious enjoyment to his direction, the team reflecting Sibelius’ ultimately victorious charge to the finish in that glorious final cadence. A special performance with which to mark an auspicious occasion, as in that night conducted by Brahms 127 years ago.