If ever proof was needed that musicians perform the music of their native countries with special insight, the Finnish conductor, Hannu Lintu, provided that proof with Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony this weekend. Also on the BSO program were Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and Liszt’s Piano Concerto with soloist Stephen Hough (the reserve of the English pianist making an interesting contrast with the flamboyance of Liszt). The Tchaikovsky and the Liszt were powerful and enjoyable, but it was in the Sibelius that I felt transported by the music making. For one thing, Lintu conducted without a score, and it was evident from the opening bars that this music is in his blood. His reading of the symphony had a raw emotionality that was compelling and had me tightly clasping my hands together as he held back those huge climaxes before releasing them with an explosive vigor. The dynamic range, the pacing, the fervor of his conducting made me think I will surely never hear a more exciting performance of this symphony. The musicians played their hearts out for him and enthusiastically clapped and tapped their bows on their stands during the curtain calls, so they clearly felt as excited by the performance as I did. Hannu Lintu begins a three-season tenure as chief conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra this fall. Good luck to him!
As an amusing post script, there was a moment near the end of Francesca da Rimini on Saturday, just before Francesca and Paolo are damned to whirl forever in the second circle of hell, when there was a piercing, continuous note sounding in the hall. Hannu Lintu turned to Concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, with a bewildered look on his face, Jonathan tapped his right hear, and Lintu turned back to the orchestra to finish the piece. In that split second a whole conversation was played out:
Lintu: What on earth is that noise?!
Jonathan: Someone’s hearing aid is squealing.
Lintu: Oh, well, then there’s nothing for it but to push on with the piece.
It was a perfect encapsulation of the hard-to-define role that the Concertmaster plays, poised as he or she is between the players and the management of the orchestra. I always love those human moments when they appear on stage.
Baltimore Symphony, Concertmaster, LISZT, SIBELIUS, Tchaikovsky