‘Spiegel im Speigel’ by Arvo Pärt was a risky start to this enchanting programme. It begins so quietly that the expectant audience, very nearly a full hall, had to settle and hush almost instantly. If only the public address system had been muted promptly too but it required an alert double-bassist to slip out and shut it up. There followed ten blissful minutes of Ruth Rogers’ calm but insistent violin playing over Joanna MacGregor’s mellow piano arpeggios, reminiscent of gentle rain – perfect music for a December Sunday afternoon. It’s one of Pärt’s most frequently performed works, perhaps because it requires only two players.
The next work, Pärt’s ‘Lamentate’ on the other hand demands a very large orchestra, so it is less often heard live. It too began very quietly with a rumble from the timpani punctuated by slow brass fanfares, that gave way to mayhem from the rest of the orchestra and the piano. Described as ‘A powerful lament for the pain of living’, there were ten contrasting sections, ‘oscillating between brutal-overwhelming and intimate-fragile.’ This is a sombre but beautiful and intriguing work. The piano is the main character but every other instrument has its moment. Particularly haunting was a repetitive pianissimo beat on the marimba in the eighth section ‘Lamentable’. Sian Edwards took us on a fascinating forty minute journey through Pärt’s extraordinary sound world then finally the piano eased the music into silence.
The second half was given to Sibelius’ majestic 2nd Symphony, composed in his prime at the age of 37. The lilting tunes of the opening were soon joined by stirring calls from the brass and keening string themes. The three substantial movements each lead up to impressive climaxes that prompted spontaneous applause. The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra was on top form, which made a thrilling first-time experience for all those new people this programme had brought into the Dome. This uplifting symphony has heavy meaning for patriotic Finns and it certainly roused strong emotions in Brighton too, if the vigour of the applause is anything to go by.