Salonen_Violin Concerto; Nyx
If your ideal of musical Finnishness has to match the austerity and intensity of Tapiola, Sibelius’s final tone-poem, then the compositions of Esa-Pekka Salonen, like those of his friends and contemporaries Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg, might seem regrettably over-elaborate – and this pair of recent scores will do little to change your mind.
The first of the Violin Concerto’s four movements, called ‘Mirage’, conveys the kind of generalised agitation and false sense of security that fit the title well. The two short central movements, each called ‘Pulse’, add to the music’s balletic aura. But the longest movement, the final ‘Adieu’, not only deepens the expressive profile but also works with more clearly defined thematic materials, and the last three of its 12 minutes project a rather beautiful song of farewell, the soloist reaching for the stars against a tolling accompaniment as the music fades into nothingness. The effectiveness of this restraint underlines the relative bombast of the movement’s contrasting materials, and there is a comparable separation between assertively brash densities and more rarefied sonorities in the orchestral work Nyx.
Nyx is a Greek goddess associated with night and Salonen’s music is at its best when searching for a nocturnal atmosphere that is not simply drifting nebulously but moving forwards with a dream-like sense of menace and mystery. Episodes that come across as evocations of full-blown horrors are less appealing but these performances, played with great polish and panache and recorded with a winning blend of clarity and spaciousness, provide the best possible advocacy.