Sunday, December 19, 2010


Our last Sydney Symphony concert for the year was the Tchaikovsky Spectacular, which actually started with Sibelius'(s)- it all gets a bit littthpy - Finlandia. I'm not complaining. In fact the reason I was there was for the Finlandia. I'm a bit of a Sibelius nutter, and here finally was the chance to hear it live. It's been avoiding me. And Mr Ashkenazy is a Sibelius man.

Nationalism and music, well nationalism and anything, is something of ambivalence to me. If unison is a good thing, with the absolute unison of all as the ultimate highest state, then where lies Nationalism, both uniting and dividing, uniting the 'us' against the 'them'. Nationalist music is about the only nationalism that gets to me. Other arenas - sport, chest beating, flags, and shockingly wars - are the stuff of dismay. But plug me into Nationalist music and away I go. Mostly. The obvious is that nationalist music as the voice of oppression is tolerable if not embraced or inspirational, while Nationalism as the boot of the oppressor is to be despised on all counts. Add human voices to the music of the oppressed, and another almost irresistable dimension again is added.

Finland in the late 19th C was suffering increasing loss of autonomy at the hands of the Russian empire. Finlandia originated from the finale (Finland Awakes) of a series of patriotic pieces Sibelius premiered in 1899. It closes with a stirring hymn-like section for which words were written in 1941. The hymn is often sung separately but rarely as far as I know is the Finlandia concert piece performed with a choir. Perhaps in Finland.

Here is a hybrid version with male choir, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lief Segerstam. My favorite is still the Vänskä, who by the way is coming next year but not for Sibelius, more's the pity ... well, as well as.

But what a difference the voice makes.

And speaking of Nationalism, the winner is:

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