Last week Ravinia hosted another celebration of sorts for Finland: a pair of concerts featuring the music of Sibelius led by one of Finland’s hot exports: the fabulous conductor Susanna Mälkki. I caught the second of these concerts on Friday and found it to be a truly splendid evening.
Mälkki conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert pairing Beethoven and Sibelius. The Finnish composer’s Symphony Number 2 proved to be a revelation. Sibelius himself described the symphony as “a confession of the soul” and Mälkki presided over a towering performance.
She imbued the opening Allegretto with lots of breathing room, knowing just when to linger and when to forge forcefully ahead. There was gorgeous phrasing and organic rise and falls in dynamics all leading to the climax where the full theme of the movement is finally unveiled.
The second movement opened with haunting pizzicato from the double basses, building in power as the cellos and then bassoons entered. The brass provided power and great shine in the explosive conclusion.
The very rapid scherzo (marked “vivacissimo”) moved at a blistering pace and Mälkki drew out accurate and exciting playing from the CSO musicians. The slower trio section was lushly romantic leading back into the rushing end of the movement.
This led without pause to the finale. The music mysteriously whirled and eddied. The final modulation from minor to major key was triumphal, and the final crescendo was masterful, led again by the confident brass.
Mälkki took multiple curtain calls from the enthusiastic audience, who seemed not to have noticed the rain all around the Ravinia Pavilion.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring soloist Kirill Gerstein. The orchestral opening was pert leading into a flowing section where Mälkki clearly established the mood. Gerstein’s entrance was sly and understated. He had pleasing fleet finger work which was never rushed. The orchestra offered buoyant support as the pianist frolicked up and down the keyboard. His chromatic runs were magnificent and his trills delectable.”