Linked by Faith
Ingvar Lidholm: Kontakion
Anton Bruckner : Symphony No. 6
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Herbert Blomstedt (conductor)
H. Blomstedt (© Martin U. K. Lengemann)
Ingvar Lidholm belonged to a group of Swedish composers in the 1940s who were influenced by the music of Hindemith, Bartók and Schoenberg. They wanted to get away from the perfumed romanticism of Grieg. As a young man he travelled to Darmstadt to become acquainted with the works of Messiaen and Krenek and there he met a young Swedish conductor, Herbert Blomstedt. A life-long friendship grew up and Blomstedt introduced Kontakion, a work written in 1978, to the concert-goers of Zurich in this evening. To understand the work, one has to know its background. The work was written during the Brezhnev era in Russia and the Stockholm Philharmonic took it on their first ever tour of Russia under Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Relations between the Swedes and the Russians were tense at that time. The work was clearly a thinly veiled protest against the Soviet suppression of the Russian Orthodox Church by the regime. The main theme is played at the very end of the work by an offstage trumpet and is a hymn for the dead, a melody which the Russians (but not the Swiss) would recognise. The Russian audience got the political point. However much of the effect of the work was lost on the Swiss audience, but they received it politely. The work itself was not unpleasant to the ear in any way but came over as disjointed and uninspiring.
Religion of course plays its part in almost all Bruckner’s works and his Symphony No. 6 is no exception. Bruckner thought the symphony was his most modern and wanted the Adagio played at his funeral. It is not often played, certainly compared with performances of his 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies. The work appeared in only one edition, unusual for a Bruckner symphony, and was never performed complete during his lifetime. Mahler did make substantial changes to the score before he conducted the premiere of the symphony in its entirety in 1899, revisions unsanctioned by Bruckner as they were posthumous. Blomstedt made a strong case, however, for the work’s qualities. He was aided by the Tonhalle Orchestra at their best.
Blomstedt revelled in the Morse code opening and the juxtaposition of the alternating blocks of sound and rhythm, complementing each other not in any way disjointed. He danced through the final pages of the first movement, marked Maestoso, wholly belying his 80 years plus. It brought to mind Günter Wand conducting Bruckner at a similar venerable age. The Adagio is marked “Sehr feierlich” and Blomstedt kept the audience’s attention wholly rapt until well after the movement ended. The central section with its stately chorales was particularly beautifully executed. A complete change of gear took us into the Scherzo, the opening bringing to mind the opening of Mahler’s 6th with its marching ground bass line and rhythmic pulse. The Finale may, for some, be the weakest movement with its raw contrasts of sound but the audience were thrilled by the final wall of blazing sound with its thunderous timpani.