The press wrote of “Simon Rattle’s grandiose Sibelius cycle” when the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor performed all the Finnish composer’s symphonies five years ago. In a repetition of the project, the First and Second are now on the programme – decisively late Romantic works, whose expressiveness is likely to have been inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, composed only a few years earlier.
Symphony No. 1 in E minor
Symphony No. 2 in D major
Introduction: 7:00 pm
Already at an early point in his career, when still Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle intensely explored all of Jean Sibelius’s symphonies; with the Berliner Philharmoniker, he last presented the cycle in 2010. Now the seven Sibelius symphonies are on the philharmonic programme once again – works in which the Finnish composer made use of techniques he had tried out in his symphonic poems reflecting on the Kalevala.
Sibelius transferred in particular to his symphonies without programme the rhapsodic basic character of those pieces circling around the myths and heroic sagas of the Finnish national epic – in the sense of a narrative, impromptu development of ideas. He at first stuck with the traditional four-movement form; particularly in the extremely melodic and emotionally deeply felt First Symphony one gets the impression that a moving story is being told in various characteristic tableaus. The introduction to the first movement is an elegiac cantilena in the solo clarinet that seems improvised and modelled directly on Kalevala singing; the song seems to bear witness to “ancient times”. The Second Symphony too is beholden to the typical Kalevala inflection, but the traditional and archaic aspect takes a back seat here, which explains why this is Sibelius’s most easy-to-grasp and cantabile symphonic work.