Segerstam Leads a Sensitive 'Finlandia'

The problems that plagued Leif Segerstam's earlier program at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic this week at the Hollywood Bowl were banished by Thursday. Maybe it was because he headed for home turf in terms of repertory.

At any rate, the Finnish conductor-composer, a great bear of a man, opened his second program Thursday with an account of Sibelius' "Finlandia" of singular, memorable probity and sensitivity.

One had the highest hopes, therefore, for the Sibelius Violin Concerto that followed, but they were not entirely realized, although the performance was distinct and deeply personal.

Neither Segerstam nor Pekka Kuusisto, the 20-year-old Finnish soloist, regard the concerto as a flashy virtuoso vehicle, which is all to their credit. Kuusisto certainly has the chops to do so, but he chose a different route. He was more meditative, isolated, quietly heroic. At Segerstam's unusually slow tempos, particularly in the first movement, Kuusisto could not inform every phrase with such a consistent character. But he is only 20.

The conductor, equally reluctant to make big, lush statements and points, knew exactly how to exploit the resources of the orchestra, especially the brass, to create Sibelius' characteristic sound world.

Why the disappointment then? It was a little odd and not entirely illuminating to hear two slow movements in succession, as if Bruch's First Violin Concerto had been Sibelius' model. More importantly, the final movement didn't crackle with typical demonic drive or energy, so the work ended somewhat inconclusively. With the amplification on its best behavior, the interpretive choices seemed clear and deliberate but far less detailed than in "Finlandia."

Segerstam closed the program with a substantial account of Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben," with concertmaster Alexander Trager contributing sensitively in the especially tender moments of the love duet between the titular hero and his helpmate.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World