performed by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä
If ever there was a piece that felt like one of those rare, never-to-be repeated moments in life, blue sky, sun’s warmth on your back, in a picture-perfect landscape of beauty, this would be it. A little, solitary slice of heaven.
The publishing time and dates for some of these works are a bit hairy, and while this one seems to have been started before yesterday’s piece, it wasn’t finished until after it, and not published until almost a decade later, in 1902.
It’s one of the shorter, warmer, more sunny pieces from Sibelius. If yesterday’s piece was that cold, deep blue wintry landscape, then this piece is a warm winter’s day, or a cool spring day, with the pastoral greens and blue skies one might expect as winter nears its end.
The piece begins warmly, leading with a solo clarinet, followed by tender, warm strings, a melody that sweeps me off my feet and makes me feel like everything is right with the world, a comforting, caressing beauty devoid of (most of) the tumult or sadness or tension from yesterday’s ‘saga.’ How truly beautiful this is.
About a third of the way in, strings begin to bounce in the background with a pulse under the oboe and flute that sounds like it’s going to bring us a march. But it just keeps soaring. There’s a sudden crash of low brass and percussion and one logically thinks that maybe this is the contrasting element that will endanger the beauty we’ve been enjoying up to this point, but after a split second of unsureness, it’s back to normal. There’s more brass at the end as the whole orchestra ratchets up to the climax of the piece, marked by a cymbal crash, a notable punctuation mark in the otherwise smooth, supple texture of this work. The brass also come to their own angelic conclusion at the very end, as the piece winds down, like a setting sun at the end of a beautiful spring day.
The Wikipedia article on this piece is incredibly short, but states that the piece began as Improvisation for Orchestra, a title that makes me think of something off-the-cuff, a sketch of a piece, and in listening, it almost sounds that way, as if it were a moment of bright optimism, effortless, sudden inspiration. There’s no resistance at all to the beauty of the work, no stopping its forward progress. It just keeps blossoming, like an ever-changing landscape as you drive through the mountains.
And to be honest, I really don’t have a lot to say about the piece. It is, beginning to end, stunningly gorgeous, almost to a fault. It is ten minutes of almost kind of show-off beauty, a sudden burst of lyricism, unimpeded by things like sonata form or obligatory transitions into other places; it stays right in the same, warm, paradisiac zone of happiness. Granted, this wouldn’t work on any kind of large scale, because the piece does feel like an improvisation, an impromptu in a rare giddy moment of ecstasy for the often-dark-sounding composer. If it were going to go much place else, it would need a more rigorous structure, a more distinct contrasting theme, tension, all the rest, but as it stands, coming in at under ten minutes, this is a sumptuous little episode of pure bliss, a perfect little morsel to enjoy.