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A true Nordic take on Sibelius Add to ...

Sibelius Festival

  • Toronto Symphony Orchestra
  • Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
  • Pekka Kuusisto, violin

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Sibelius Festival opened brilliantly Wednesday under Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, who incited the orchestra to a near riot of extraordinary playing. Dausgaard gave the audience at once glittering, ice-etched blueprints of the great Finnish composer's First and Second Symphonies, and an immersion in the vaulting passions that had inspired them.

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It has been said that among all his contemporaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sibelius was the one with the long breath of the true symphonist. But what confirmed him as a master were the unique sonic patterns he devised and floated on that long breath. His First Symphony stands on the Tchaikovsky tradition, yet except in a very few echoed details, its posture and dynamic patterns sound nothing like Tchaikovsky.

In fact, viewed from a Tchaikovsky perspective, the Sibelius First Symphony is a very strange work indeed, with its long, angular fragments separated by silences and only gradually and suspensefully made to interrelate.

Dausgaard, though not a Finn, has a Nordic insight into this quintessentially Nordic music. He respects and cherishes the fierce singularity of the great fragments individually, and is able to animate the larger vision of coherence which, to our aural astonishment, really does bind them.

Conducting without score, Dausgaard brought both symphonies to vivid life, inspiring the players with a fresh sense of their worth. I've never heard the brass sound better. Even the woodwinds, so often so fine, outdid themselves, as did every section, reminding us how fortunate we are to have an orchestra of such latent strength and ability.

The young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto joined the orchestra between the symphonies to play the first two of Sibelius's six Humoresques. The music is effervescent, glinting, epigrammatic. Kuusisto provided its full measure of intricate lyricism and capricious virtuosity. His strong appeal for the audience was limited only by the brevity of the two pieces.

After the Second Symphony, the solid ovation for the conductor and players led to an encore: a spacious, moody and poignantly arresting account of Sibelius's Valse Triste.

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