Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Viva Finlandia: Guildhall Symphony Orchestra/Eva Ollikainen @ Cadogan Hall, London

13 November 2006

It seems miserable of me to admit so, but another world premiere has disappointed.

Sami Klemola‘s Cubistic Strophes has a workable central theme the idea of cubism, normally consigned to static art, finding itself in music.

It could either be very daring or very dull, and on Monday evening, it came across as both.

“It’s one of these,” a lady sighed near me on hearing the opening bars, and she had good reason.

Pizzicato strings, ghostly woodwind colourings and ever-inappropriate percussion interpolations provided textural colour to dull, unexplored dissonances.

By attempting to explore musical ideas from different angles a difficult concept admittedly Klemola recycles musical phrases endlessly in a style that is not quite minimalism and not quite anything else. With these tedious reiterations and ugly orchestration, the piece wallows in its own modernity without finding a workable style, finally whimpering to a standstill after its mid-point climax. The composers hair may have been trend setting, but his composition made the poor chap opposite me fall asleep.

This of course must not detract from the achievement of the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra under Eva Ollikainen, who explored the intricacies in Klemola’s work and found some surprising treasures. The violin vibrato was pinpoint; woodwind were exact, though the flutes screamed a tad. And Eric Wang created surprising tension in the brief first-violin solo, for all the problems he had with pitching.

The orchestra was good throughout. Sibelius’s Finlandia was harmed by distant violins in the Allegro, while the famous Hymn was more subdued than is usual. But the low strings were monumental, and Ollikainen appreciated the function of silence in this composer’s music. Meanwhile, the other Sibelius on the menu, Symphony No 5, was fine but emotionally flat. The conducting especially gained no points for overall structure. The orchestra’s youth was rarely a problem, though horns were poor all evening, with botched entries and discrepancies of pitching.

And this reviewer was not pleased with the meagre selection of Mozart arias sandwiched awkwardly before the interval. Essi Luttinen over stylised her rolled Rs in Parto, parto, then struggled to find any Mozartian line in either aria from La clemenza di Tito. Kaisa Ranta meanwhile seemed alternately too low or too high in the lullaby from Zaide, and her Queen of the Night lost pitch in a typically squeaked attempt to reach above high C. Then their duet from Cos fan tutte, though prettily sung, lacked the undercurrent of sexual ambiguity and suppressed desire that is so crucial for that great opera.

Ambassador Jaakko Laajava from the Finish Embassy notes in the programme how “highly symbolic” this concert was, with the Finnish women on the platform apparently representing “women in the arts and in Finnish life in general”. Perhaps a little less symbolism and a little more quality would have been in order.

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