a wolff in swan’s clothing – part II

quoting at length from the composer’s diary… conducting without a written score… groaning and gesticulating with passion during the wondrous finale… um, it was perfectly clear on monday night that guest conductor *hugh wolff is in the midst of a torrid and long-term love affair with the fifth symphony of jean sibelius.  (and after listening to the work every day for a couple weeks at the home office, ol’ beavey is beginning to share the maestro’s passion.)  the symphony opens in a rather quiet, meditative mood that is 100% sibelius through and through ~ an undulating orchestral sea whose waves crest and fall unpredictably, tiny bits of musical fragments bobbing near its surface.  at one point, carin’s ruminating bassoon atop anxious violins almost threw this rodent’s tiny heart overboard.  [sigh]  and then it happens without warning: the tempo suddenly picks up and solidifies the band in a glorious finnish jig, flirting with intricate counterpoint melodies and chugging along until those with brass in hand close the movement in an eruption of pure joy.  [wowee!]  perhaps sensing listeners would need a moment to collect themselves after such a revelation, uncle jean’s middle section is wonderfully sedate, featuring plucked strings to calm our hearts like a clock’s tick tock.  this auditory rest stop is brief, though, and a burst of timpani signals to everyone holding a violin, viola, cello, or bass that it is now time to bring home the finale.

[the beaver is tempted to end its review there, for what words could possibly do justice to this final movement?  what adjectives can be discovered that adequately convey its glory?  shall i relate how a grip of swans inspired the composer one fine april day?  here is one more question: how’s it going to end?  this is my unspoken query at the start of any final movement, and for me, it’s a big part of what makes classical music so engaging, so captivating, so absorbing.  (how is mozart gonna get out of this one? how will Beethoven describe triumph this time?)  gentle reader: the concluding shock and awe of sibelius #5 is nothing less than a goddamn symphonic miracle.  let’s just leave it there.]


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