, Irish Independent, 27.5.2013
27 MAY 2013
THE NATIONAL CONCERT HALL
This is a period of farewell to a number of personnel involved with the RTÉ NSO. Two weeks ago, pianist Finghin Collins ended his rewarding term as the orchestra’s associate artist.
Later this week, Alan Smale, the NSO’s consummate concertmaster for many years, retires from his leader’s desk while the weekend concluded Hannu Lintu’s dynamic tenure as principal guest conductor.
Lintu is an artist I have admired over the past three years and his valedictory concert, devoted to the music of his compatriot Jean Sibelius, confirms my respect has not been misplaced.
The Finnish maestro’s chosen programme brings music from either end of Sibelius’s compositional career. The tone poem Tapiola dates from 1925; while Kullervo, a symphony in all but name, had its first performance in 1892. This substantial five-movement piece is based on an extract from Finland’s Kalevala mythology.
Despite enjoying popularity in the immediate aftermath of its première, the composer withdrew it. His intention was major revision, but Kullervo languished in limbo until after Sibelius’s death in 1957.
Its revival at the National Concert Hall is most welcome, especially under Hannu Lintu’s inspirational direction to which the RTÉ NSO reacts with resolute intensity.
Not surprisingly, the music prefigures many of the specific hallmarks that identify the individualistic Sibelius in his later symphonies and tone poems. But relating to an extended Kalevala episode, where the anti-hero Kullervo unknowingly ravishes his sister, the score is highly dramatic, particularly in its choral third and fifth movements.
At times here – and indeed at points elsewhere – these reach a kind of incandescent concentration from the brilliance of the sharply defined attack of the visiting male voice Polytech Choir of Finland, singing from memory, and the equally incisive response of the orchestra. The sweep and surge of its playing takes on an extra dimension under Lintu’s charismatic baton.
The involvement of soloists – baritone Ville Rusanen and soprano Johanna Rusanen-Kartano as Kullervo and his sister – is initially detached before both artists engage histrionic passion as their unsavoury situation evolves.
Be it through searing strings, smoothly integrated woodwind, with the cor anglais sympathetically plaintive in lamentation, or resonant brass, combined with tremendous body in the choir’s delivery, this Sibelius tribute is an unqualified triumph.