Friday, October 14, 2005

Nielsen's 'Inextinguishable' Symphony No 4, Op 29

Carl August Nielsen's 4 movement work - Symphony No 4, Op 29 'The Inextinguishable' was performed by the SSO tonight. And I'll have to admit that this is one wonderfully orchestrated twentieth century work by this Danish composer, though I thought that this work was rather primitive for its time.

This is a work written in the middle of the First World War and even in the first few bars of the first movement, the music doesn't attempt to mask the composer's personal opinions of the war. What captured my attention of the work tonight was the brilliant orchestration by Carl Nielsen. I attempted to travel deep into the different layers of the music instead of listening to the music as a complete whole and was well rewarded. Despite the drama created by the musicians as a whole, the superb orchestration was clearly evident. I have yet to listen to his other works, but if this symphony is characteristic of his general composition style, I wouldn't hesitate to say that he had this gift for instrumental colour and timbre. Throughout most of the entire work, the blending of the different instrumental colours was wonderful. It was only a particular section in the last movement of the work whereby the timbre and tone colours of the 2 sets timpani and violins clashes in the most awful way. Given the way in which the composer had written for most of the work, I would believe that such an awful blend would be a deliberate effect of the chaos in the war which the composer would like to express instead of careless orchestration. And of course, this dramatic section forms the last 'high' point of the entire work, when the image of a nihilistic perception gives way to a silver lining which symbolises hope. I haven't managed to get a chance to study the score yet, but that's what I could deduce from my first live hearing of this dramatic piece.

However, the orchestra was disappointing today. My guess is that the conductor and musicians are not exposed to twentieth century music as much as they ought to. They didn't seem to have a clear musical idea of several sections of this music. In some parts of the music, especially when it comes to the dramatic sections, the winds began to play as if the audience were deaf, blowing their guts out, overpowering the strings in the process and of course, those sections sounded brutal to the ear. I doubt that is what Carl Nielsen would have wanted, even though it is written on the war, for this essentially is music, and the musical shape shouldn't be compromised for bringing out the horrifying side of the war. Even within the fortissimo sections, a slight cresendo would have brought so much more musical value to the music instead of blaring the instruments at the top of its possible volume. I'm not sure if that's what the composer would have wanted, but I thought that the music could be more refined and musical without compromising any disturbing effects associated with the war. The tempo of the music also sounded problematic to me. Well, I can't explain how the tempo ought to be, for I've never seen the score nor heard a professional recording of it, but it sure sounded unnatural to me.

Besides this piece, the orchestra also played Jean Sibelius's Finlandia (Op 26) and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Piano Concerto No 1 (Op 25), with local pianist, Toh Chee Hung as the soloist. Well, the orchestra literally desecrated the former but manage to find their bearing back for the latter piece. An excellent piece for a casual teenage composition, though it wasn't anything near spectacular.

One interesting thing to note is that for all these 3 pieces tonight, the movements of each work is joined together without any breaks in between, at least for two of them, since Finlandia is a 1-movement work.

Well, despite the problems, I still thought that it was a good concert. Realise that for every concert I attend, I have learnt to appreciate the music played in a deeper manner instead of just admiring the work superficially. Thank God for opening my eyes, sharpening my ears and inputting the musical ideas into my mind.

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