About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

Hong Kong

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



David Atherton returns and joins Viviane Hagner for Pure Sibelius

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
12/08/2007 -  
Jean Sibelius: Karelia Suite, Op.11 – Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op.47 – Symphony No.6 in D Minor, Op.104 – Finlandia, Op.26

Viviane Hagner (Violin)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, David Atherton (Conductor)

As part of the celebration to the fiftieth anniversary of Sibelius’s death this year, the HKPO is proud to feature a two day concert of Pure Sibelius, programming the already famed young violin virtuoso from Munich, Viviane Hagner, in Sibelius’ best-loved Violin Concerto. Together, featured in tonight’s programme are some of the well-known orchestral bonbons of Sibelius, Finlandia and Karelia Suite, as led by the HKPO Conductor Laureate and acclaimed British conductor, Maestro David Atherton. As a continuation of his Sibelius’s Symphonies Cycle in Hong Kong, Maestro Atherton delivered a sentimental reading of Sibelius’s dark and mystic Symphony No.6.

Sibelius’s Karelia Suite opened the night with flavors and glimmers of Finnish nationalism that filled the air to every corner of the Cultural Center. During the lifetime of Sibelius, the composer has been known for his nationalistic patriotism to his motherland. The Karelia Suite is in three movements, two marches that flank a melancholic ‘Ballade’ as portrayed by a cor anglais that was ingeniously used by Sibelius to reflect the mood of an old monarch to reminisce his past old kingdom. Today, the Karelia Suite is more appropriately remembered as one of Sibelius’s signature pieces in which he paid honor and tribute to his motherland, his heritage to Finnish folklores as depicted through music. Stepping on the podium was Maestro David Atherton, dressed in traditional Chinese black garment, as his paid tribute to his once beloved home here in Hong Kong. On the podium, his command over the Orchestra aroused Finnish air over the Intermezzo; players of the HKPO sounded as an army carried forward by a martial brassy melody that soar high to the audience as the orchestra portrayed the atmosphere of marching contingents in a waving sea of flags. Here, each of the players concurred aptly on the tempi, and compliments to Maestro Atherton for achieving the necessary orchestral balance and precision into making a large orchestra of players sing in a single voice. Specifically, of note, the group was able to capture an ‘open-air’ celebratory mood of these pieces, which was necessary to capture audience to the underlying programme of this piece that depicted the vast greensland. The Ballade did suffer from strong rhythmic straightness that belittled the elements of a march, but it was otherwise a sympathetic opening piece on a night’s performance. Moreover, Maestro Atherton failed short to sustain the music pulse – and this performance rated as one of those live performances where the ‘Ballade’ was played a bit too slow.

Next on the roster was Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, one of those Romantic warhorses that most violinists unanimously labeled as the most difficult of its kind in the violin repertoire. The soloist tonight was Viviane Hagner, hair-bounded in a cool dark dress, who mesmerized audience with her stage presence during the entire concert. The opening solo, which rose from quiet darkness, was focused, metallic, cold and desolate. At first, it sounded soul-less and unimpressive, but minutes into the music, a sense of purpose then surfaced. The interpretations of Miss Hagner in this concerto distinguished her from those of her colleagues – it was her shaping of the solo line, her vision of the entire first movement; each sub-structure, whether it ranged from the individual phrasing, motifs, themes to the grandiose passages, sections or movements, was connected in one continuity. Placed in direct and powerful contrast with the final appearance of the distinctive soaring theme, the final dash towards the end of the first movement triumphed with an inevitable release of breathe, majestic even to its D-minor fate with blaring red-hot energy. In the second movement, she soared with a cold distance that one may imagine as her interpretation of bringing close to that snow scenery of Sibelius’s northerly homeland – cold and dark on the surface, yet warm and luminescent from the interior. Whatever the case, Miss Hagner’s ideas appeared to intermingle with one and other, and surely, it demonstrated what an emotional player she truly was. Her powerfully carved lines could burn with passion, as one recollected the climax of this Adagio, second movement. Compliments to her complete control over the instrument; every turn and every phrase was executed with complete finesse and understanding of intentions, and an equal output from her violin resonated. Recall all the delicate yet tearful pp - searing in the first movement, icily clear in the second. Her playing soared, piercing at times with silvery strength that had a shining tone to impersonate the vibrati of a soprano voice. This marked as an example of her mastery, together with those carefully skillful rubati, flanked with hushed diminuendi as she slowed down. Her strokes literally molded phrases with moving beauty. The third movement was an exciting one; some may have criticized Germans to play notes strictly, yet Miss Hagner demonstrated here her ability to slide and execute glissandi on her notes next to solidly focused staccati. It may not have been to everyone’s tastes and gestures, but it was proven to be a refreshing reading. Together with what appeared to be her unstoppable momentum and nearly 100% intonation, this was one of those finales that cannot but leap out one’s body.

Intermission marked the entry to a somewhat disappointing reading of the Symphony No.6, which lacked in the fairy lightness and the glittering sunlight, which would have made this work shone brightly and winsomely beautiful otherwise. Indeed, the Hong Kong players secluded themselves from bringing ‘lights’ to a D minor symphony, and for this reason, their playing failed short to be heartwarming. Perhaps, Maestro Atherton was short-sighted in appreciating Sibelius’s original dictum of this work, which in 1923, he described the work as being: ‘… wild and passionate in character. Dark with pastoral contrasts … intensifying in a dark orchestral swell [until] the main theme is drowned.’ The second movement opened nostalgically for a short brief moment, in which Maestro Atherton attempted to distinctively flavor orchestral colors despite the bare-nakedness of the score. The shimmering strings, together with what seemed fluttering birdsong from the woodwinds reminisced to what may appear a half-lit forest in the concert hall. The third movement poco vivace included a quaint passage that sounded joyfully, and throughout this performance of the third movement, there was beautifully luminous strings, including harp player. Even if one’s eyes were closed from start till end, one could easily locate where the harp sat comfortably within the Orchestra on the right, as it sprinkled a field of sparkling stars over the score, without ever screaming out for attention. The allegro molto finale reached an unison, where all the different thematic passages and moods were beautifully weaved together. Again, what would have made the finale a more vivid ending would have been grasping the heartwarming and heartbreaking elements of the scores to greater heights, and admittedly, one could only second-guess to our Maestro’s true interpretations of how he viewed the finale in this Symphony. To those keen listeners, this finale is musically significant in bringing the three earlier movements to a gentle, serene yet infinite sad ending – half yearning, but half hymning. This Sibelius Symphony is one of irony – full of fading distant sorrow from the very start and yet, it comes full circle smiling with contented resignation at the point of the finale. If this piece was to be done musically emotional, a bit short at hand with tonight’s HKPO performance, it could be a performance that breaks and heals one’s soul, all in a matter of four movements.

To be completely fair to Maestro Atherton and the HKPO players, Finlandia was where they shone, and truly, this piece must be considered to be the representative piece that truly reflected Sibelius’s inspiration to his motherland. This work is both a large-scale patriotic symbolism of Finland, as well as a piece of celebrations. Contained in this piece are powerful gestures and irresistible melodies, not only to those trained ears or first-time listeners, as it captures both the ardent fire of the Finnish spirit and the combination of beauty and melancholia of the Finnish landscape. In fact, the famous central hymn of Finlandia has been sometimes compared analogously to Elgar’s Land of Hope & Glory – the former being so popular that it virtually became Finland’s second national anthem. On the other hand, Finlandia is one of those hallmark pieces that distinguishes Sibelius from other mainstream Romantics. In contrast to portraying an individual’s emotional reaction to nature, most notably to Mahler, Sibelius’ music on the other hand belongs to a ‘sound-scape’ that attempts to depict nature’s individual voice, by capturing nature’s very own inherent rhymicity and feeling of being nature. So, after hearing how the Orchestra players delivered nature to us in Finlandia, one could only give thanks to what a beautiful world we are so privileged to live in.

Patrick P.L. Lam



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com