SIBELIUS. Symphony No. 2 Symphony No. 7 Finlandia. Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Arvo Volmer

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1 SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 Symphony No. 7 Finlandia Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Arvo Volmer

2 Symphony No. 2 JEAN SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 [42 50] 1 I. Allegretto II. Tempo andante, ma rubato III. Vivacissimo Lento e suave Tempo primo Lento e suave IV. Finale (Allegro moderato) Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op Finlandia, Op Total Playing Time Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Arvo Volmer conductor It is as if the Almighty had thrown down pieces of a mosaic from Heaven s floor and asked me to put them together. Sibelius s description of his process of symphonic composition might refer specifically to the first movement of his Second Symphony, which exemplifies the notion of a series of fragments being drawn together to create a coherent musical unit. This was once considered an unusual approach to the use of symphonic structure, but no longer seems so because the popularity of this symphony long ago tamed whatever strangeness it once possessed. This opening movement would have sounded unusual to audiences used to the symphonic writing of Brahms or Dvořák. In most of their symphonic first movements, they present a series of themes in the opening minutes (the exposition). In the following section, the themes are broken up and re-examined (the development), before their primacy is re-asserted at the movement s conclusion (the recapitulation). In the opening Allegretto of his Second Symphony, Sibelius approaches this structure in a manner that was to be characteristic of his later work, but new for him at this point: he presents us with a series of fragmentary musical ideas at the outset then uses the development section to illustrate their capacity for unity. In the movement s final minutes, he draws the ideas apart again until they are reduced to their essentials. Much of the literature about this work is focused on this movement alone, which has obscured the many other facets of the symphony that mark it out as transitional rather than radical. For there are many ways in which the work is linked strongly to its predecessor. In his wildly successful First Symphony, Sibelius had taken the language of Tchaikovsky and the Romantic nationalists and put his own stamp on it. Much of the Second Symphony inhabits the same emotional territory: in terms of strong feeling, the opening movement is not as significant as the andante which follows; in its powerful extremes of expression, this is the work s centre of gravity. Likewise, a Romantic fervour dominates the mood of the Finale. However, we do see the future Sibelius in his telescoping of the third movement into the fourth. Here he re-shapes symphonic externals in a manner that would contribute to the distinctiveness of his later symphonies. At the conclusion of the work, it is possible to feel that the darkness to light progression of the musical events must be about something. Sibelius was already a national figure at this time, and an artist of some international standing: En Saga, the First Symphony, The Swan of Tuonela, Finlandia and the King Christian music were finding increasing success in Europe and the United States. With Finland 2 3

3 in the middle of a political crisis caused by Russian claims on the country s independence, a bold new symphony by a famous compatriot that concluded, so to speak, with the scent of victory in its nostrils, was bound to create the impression that it was a portrayal of Finland s struggle to assert its identity. Sibelius rejected all attempts by his well-meaning champions to project a nationalist agenda onto the music. His methodology, particularly in the symphony s first half, is subtle and intricate, and does not suggest itself as the work of someone out to write musical propaganda. His evident ability to strike out on a distinctive artistic path of his own is indication enough that he was not interested in becoming the popular musical face of Finnish nationalism. As Sibelius s biographer, Erik Tawaststjerna, put it: His conviction that the time for national-romantic symphonies was drawing to an end was growing. One might say that Sibelius experienced the romantic crisis intuitively. It was a trip to Italy in February 1901 that got him going on the composition of the Second Symphony. His mentor and patron, Axel Carpelan, felt the composer had sat at home long enough and that Italy would inspire him as it had inspired Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss before him. The composer used his Italian sojourn, spent mostly in Rapallo, to begin sketches for a piece based on the exploits of Don Juan, and created other material for a four-movement symphonic fantasy. On returning home Sibelius realised that it was no symphonic fantasy he was creating but a fullyfledged symphony. It caused him some difficulty. I have been in the throes of a bitter struggle with this symphony. Now the picture is clearer and I am now proceeding under full sail. Soon I hope to have something to dedicate to you, he wrote to Carpelan in November But he continued to revise the work so that its premiere in Helsinki had to be twice postponed. Sibelius himself conducted these first performances in March 1902, at which the work was an immediate success. The symphony s initial theme might be called unassuming a simple rising and falling 11-note figure for the strings. It is one of those rhythmic ideas Sibelius contrives to behave like a tune, and soon blossoms into one, a pastoral theme given to the woodwinds. The horns then give out a slower, more lyrical version of the idea. Soon we encounter a more passionate, wide-ranging tune for the strings, punctuated by long pauses, and a theme for the woodwind emerging from a note held for nearly four bars. There is also a marvellous sequential theme for the strings, played pizzicato. These individual thematic events are gradually dovetailed, superimposed and juxtaposed as Sibelius brings them closer together. And this is the meaning and purpose of this music: the creation of a logical musical argument out of the seemingly disparate fragments he at first presented to us. Where Sibelius s tone poems are often descriptive, or at least based on external narratives, the drama here is all in the music. 4 The movement climaxes in the development section remember, this was unusual for a symphony at this time after which the musical texture is gradually filleted away until all that is left is the theme-like rhythm with which the movement began. The striking opening of the second movement a timpani roll followed by the pizzicato tread of lower strings is followed by a haunting chant-like figure marked lugubre, played by the bassoons. This is the dark world Sibelius was to explore more fully in his Fourth Symphony. A feverish transformation of this bassoon theme leads to a passage of great intensity. The brass writing is notably dark and craggy, with particularly telling music for the tuba. (This is the last time he would use this instrument in a symphony.) The coda is magnificently bleak and abrupt. The Vivacissimo movement contains two striking ideas: the scurrying string theme at the outset that suggests Bruckner while being far more fleet-footed, and a wonderfully lyrical idea commencing with nine repeated notes first heard on the oboe and which soon bursts forth passionately on the strings. The first two movements have ended quietly. Now Sibelius ends his Vivacissimo by linking it directly to the Finale. A rocking three-note figure forms a bridge to the final movement, and then turns out to be its main theme, played out over a grinding accompaniment, and followed by heroic trumpet fanfares. A wonderfully harmonised woodwind theme is then transformed into a lyrical passage for the upper strings. The atmosphere of pomp, ceremony and high-flown romance is interrupted only by a wistful woodwind theme given over a murmuring accompaniment by the lower strings. The sense of triumph renews itself, however, by way of exhaustive sequential development, and the symphony ends with grand rhetorical re-statements of the final three-note theme, now joyous and resplendent. Symphony No. 7 One of the hallmarks of Sibelius s music is its powerful evocation of elemental spirits. From the darkness of the river on which The Swan of Tuonela (1894) floats, to the cold forest of Tapiola (1925), there is an intensity of expression in Sibelius, a disdain for adornment and a casting-aside of all that is unnecessary to his purpose, coupled with an obvious identification with the natural world. Australian conductor Sir Bernard Heinze used to recall that when he met Sibelius in the 1930s, the composer took the young conductor outside his house, embraced with a gesture the spectacular view, and said: Here is my Second Symphony. This does not seem so fanciful an anecdote to those who know Sibelius s music. With his Seventh Symphony (1924), Sibelius made his last statement in the form. Rumours of an Eighth persisted until his death, but whatever existed of it and evidence suggests that he may have 5

4 completed at least the first movement was destroyed, probably in the 1940s. In any case the Seventh is so grand a culmination of his symphonic achievements that it is hard to imagine how he might have followed it. Perhaps Sibelius came to feel this also. Detailed analyses of Sibelius s later music are always difficult because of the subtlety with which the composer lays his plans, but in the case of the Seventh Symphony the task is particularly daunting. In this work descriptions of the natural world have been dissolved into a symphony that is itself elemental. Composer and critic Robert Simpson has described it as being like a great planet in orbit, while the writer Bayan Northcott calls it a single, gigantic wave. Throughout its one-movement span, themes float into view and then dissolve almost imperceptibly into others, while changes of tempo are so closely intertwined with the pattern of Sibelius s harmonic and instrumental ideas that they cannot be isolated in words on a page to convey a fraction of the experience of listening to the work in performance. The Seventh is the most concentrated of Sibelius s symphonies and the one that best illustrates his individual understanding of the relationship between mass and time. In his analysis of it, Sir Donald Tovey wrote that it reconciles the heroism of Wagner s time-scale with the need for cogent symphonic movement. Certainly the piece speaks of epic notions, but there is nothing sprawling about it, and its ideas are shaped with high regard for their context. It is not at all a work written in sections. Unlike Schumann s Fourth, for example, Sibelius s Seventh is not four movements segued into one. It is more like a closely woven fabric on which incidental details serve as component parts of the whole. It could be argued that there are elements of adagio and scherzo contained within its span, and there are indeed moments of rhythmic lightness and of grave portentousness, but these are not so isolated from the general flow of ideas that they might be identified as discrete movements of the work. It could be called a genuine stream-of-consciousness symphony were it not so tightly organised. The work is anchored in the tonality of C, and after an introduction that moves from simplicity to dark splendour the main theme is announced by the first trombone. This burnished statement is the pivot around which the symphony revolves. As conductor Osmo Vänskä has said of this theme: Like Sarastro in The Magic Flute, it is always the same. It is heard again in the centre of the work and yet again at its conclusion. As its first announcement ends, the rising scale that opened the work is heard again, and we seem at this point to have passed the threshold that takes us resolutely into the world of this symphony. The Lisztian objective of a convincing musical structure based on the method of transformation of themes is here realised, with each theme anticipating and recalling another, but occupying its own emotional sphere. At one moment the spirit of the dance is summoned; at the next, the atmosphere is more troubled and dissonant, before Sibelius weaves these and other ideas in and around the final sublime tolling of the trombones. The symphony s concentration of expression had a profound impact on composers in the United States particularly, and two important American symphonies, the First of Samuel Barber and the Third of Roy Harris, are clearly influenced by its combination of power and compression. It remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of symphonic music. Finlandia If you listen to orchestral music with any frequency, Finlandia will have been inescapable. It was once a staple of concert programs, can still be heard frequently on radio and is usually the first piece on any CD called The Best of Sibelius. Given its ubiquity, it s important to note that Finlandia is to Sibelius s work what the Overture 1812 is to Tchaikovsky s: it was very much a ceremonial piece, written for a specific occasion, that somehow took on a life of its own. In 1893 Sibelius had created music to accompany a pageant staged by the Viipuri Student Corporation at Helsinki University, containing scenes from Karelian history. The three numbers Sibelius extracted from this music as his Karelia Suite became one of his first big successes, and among the first of his works to take his name beyond the Scandinavian countries. The circumstances of Finlandia s composition are remarkably similar. The Press Pension Celebrations of November 1899 were a thinly disguised attempt to create a fighting fund in support of a free press, at a time when Finland s Russian rulers were vigilantly watchful of expressions of nationalist sentiment. Yet in Finland, as in so many other occupied territories in Europe, nationalism was in the air and as the dawn of a new century was near, an air of optimism too. 6 7

5 The three-day Celebrations culminated in a gala performance which included a series of historical tableaux, staged to Sibelius s music. There were six scenes in total, set in different periods of Finnish history, from ancient times to the late 19th century. It was for the final one, called Finland Awakes!, that the piece we now know as Finlandia was created. This tableau was described by a Finnish newspaper as follows: The powers of darkness menacing Finland had not succeeded in their terrible threats. Finland awakes. [Of] the great men of the time that adorn the pages of history, [stories] are told [and] the beginnings of elementary education and the first steam locomotive are all recorded. Given the narrative Sibelius was setting out to illustrate in this music, it s not difficult to read the snarling brass fanfares which open Finlandia as the powers of darkness (which to the work s first audience would have been Russia under its then-current Czar, Nicholas II); the contrasting chorale-like woodwind figure which follows as a prayer for better times; and the rumbustious, cymbal-clashing Allegro which forms the bulk of the work as the march of progress towards more enlightened times and, although this word could hardly be used for fear of censorship, independence. Following a concert performance of the tableaux music a month after the Press Pension event, Finlandia s success was assured. The work was also part of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra s repertoire on a European tour which culminated in concerts at the 1900 Paris Exposition (Exposition Universelle). By then, Finlandia s reputation as a flag-waver for Finnish patriotism had made the authorities nervous, so to avoid the possibility of ruffled Russian sensitivities, the work was called Vaterland or La Patrie once the Helsinki Orchestra s tour took them beyond Scandinavia. Even with a title of determined inoffensiveness, the work made a tremendous impact wherever it was played, and remains the composer s best-known piece. Many years after its debut Sibelius, very much aware of the work s popularity, was moved to comment: Why does this tone-poem catch on with the public? I suppose because of its plein air style. The themes on which it is based came to me directly. Pure inspiration. Arvo Volmer Arvo Volmer began his professional conducting career with the Estonian National Opera in 1985, while still a student at the Estonian Music Academy. He made his debut with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra in 1987, became their Associate Conductor in 1989 and was their Music Director between 1993 and Arvo Volmer was Music Director of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra from 1994 to 2005, and is currently Artistic Director of the Estonian National Opera. Arvo Volmer s success at the 1989 Nikolai Malko Competition in Copenhagen launched an international career that has seen him conduct almost all the symphony orchestras in Scandinavia, including the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Copenhagen and Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestras and Stockholm s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has conducted orchestras in the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Israel and Iceland. Recent highlights have included concerts with the Orchestre National de France, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Symphoniker, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra of Moscow and the St Petersburg Orchestra. Arvo Volmer is also active as a conductor of opera, working frequently with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Finnish National Opera, Norwegian Opera and Oulu Opera. Arvo Volmer has recorded extensively, including the complete symphonies of Eduard Tubin and the complete orchestral works of Leevi Madetoja, as well as discs of Swedish and Estonian contemporary music. He made his Australian debut in 2001 and has conducted the Adelaide, Tasmanian, West Australian and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and The Queensland Orchestra. He has been Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra since Phillip Sametz 8 9

6 Adelaide Symphony Orchestra With a reputation for youthful vitality and superb artistry, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra plays a central role at the heart of the South Australian community. In 2011, the ASO celebrates its 75th anniversary season under the leadership of Music Director and Chief Conductor Arvo Volmer. It is the largest performing arts organisation in South Australia, each year performing over 100 concerts across a diverse musical spectrum. The ASO also provides the orchestral support for the State Opera of South Australia and Adelaide performances by the Australian Ballet and Opera Australia, and is the most prolific contributor to the biennial Adelaide Festival. The ASO s commitment to artistic excellence has also strengthened its reputation within the international community. Following its groundbreaking 1996 tour to China, the ASO won world acclaim in 1998 with Australia s first production of Wagner s Ring cycle. This monumental project was repeated in 2004 under the baton of Israeli conductor Asher Fisch. In 2009 the ASO performed at Carnegie Hall, New York as part of the G Day USA celebrations. The ASO excels as a dynamic, versatile orchestra, performing with such outstanding artists as Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Burt Bacharach, José Carreras, Tony Bennett, Pinchas Zukerman, Dionne Warwick, Andrea Bocelli, kd lang, Lalo Schifrin, Ben Folds and Herbie Hancock. Executive Producers Martin Buzacott, Robert Patterson, Lyle Chan Recording Producer, Editing and Mastering Thomas Grubb Recording Engineer Wayne Baker Assistant Recording Engineer Andrea Hensing Editorial and Production Manager Hilary Shrubb Publications Editor Natalie Shea Booklet Design Imagecorp Pty Ltd Cover Photo Lake Mustalampi, 5km from the centre of Jyväskylä, Finland Kari Liimatainen Kari Liimatainen lives in Jyväskylä in central Finland a land he describes as easy to photograph because its four clearly distinct seasons are all equally beautiful! Photography is both a hobby and a form of meditation for Kari, who often spends hours at a time in the woods with his camera. His other interests are music and sport, and he is also a wrestling coach. For Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Chief Executive Rainer Jozeps Artistic Administrator James Koehne Orchestra Manager Karen Frost The ASO reaches out to all sections of the community with music experiences that are accessible, world class and entertaining. Recorded April 2007 in the Adelaide Town Hall. Sibelius s Symphony No. 2 and Finlandia are published by Breitkopf & Härtel. Symphony No. 7 is published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen. ABC Classics thanks Alexandra Alewood, Claudia Crosariol, Katherine Kemp and Virginia Read Australian Broadcasting Corporation Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Universal Music Group, under exclusive licence. Made in Australia. All rights of the owner of copyright reserved. Any copying, renting, lending, diffusion, public performance or broadcast of this record without the authority of the copyright owner is prohibited

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