Friday, December 30, 2016

Sibelius - Sixth Symphony in D Minor

This is the first ever recorded version of this symphony Finnish National Orchestra directed by Georg Schneevoigt in 1934 Sibelius wrote on his Sixth Symphony: "Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water". Benjamin Britten also commented, "He must have been drunk when he wrote it." There is an irony when Sibelius describes his sixth symphony. It cannot be ignored that he had a predilection for liquor. There is no doubt that Sibelius has used strange kind of polyphony in his writing but this definitely ads to its distinct flavour. The whole symphony has to be played in the mezzo forte range and it cannot be too loud or too soft. Whatever the case may be, this is indeed a strange symphony coming out of the year 1923. It is a work that takes you back to an age before tonality and it uses strange modes and scales that can be termed ambiguous. The symphony involves heavy tension between C Major scale and D minor that has an inflected mode. It ends without an emphatic statement and this is what makes this symphony unique. Lorin Maazel with Vienna and Karajan with Berlin Philharmonic have brought this symphony out very well but my personal favourite is the performance by Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. This could be described as music that may be self-effacing. The symphony intentionally does not leave any mark; it is like going or a walk in the snow and trying to cover up your tracks. Music critics have observed that Sibelius wrote this symphony without using markers of time and he left the musical imagination wide open. The rhythm is suspended while the strings play and in the flow of play by woodwinds. The rhythm is actually picked up and energised by repeated rhythm in the harp. In the second movement too, there is a strange layer of different kinds of time being kept. The scherzo generates some structural expectations. The finale picks up ferocious speed before subsiding in an uneasy calm in the final bars.

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