Ethereal wisps from the strings crept like mist across the opening of Sibelius’ Scene with Cranes, music extracted by the composer from the score he wrote for his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt’s symbolist play Kuolemaor Death.
The sound conductor Brett Dean coaxed from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s strings was delicate, almost prayer-like, before rising intensity disturbed the titular cranes – clarinettists Francesco Celata and Christopher Tingay – perched above the orchestra in the choir stalls, their plaintive, descending cries ringing out mournfully. Dean, fresh from conducting his powerful Dream Sequence concert with the SSO at Carriageworks on Sunday, pushed deep into the silences of Sibelius’ music, leading with sensitive restraint and authority, while guest concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto traded lean, haunting lines with cellist Umberto Clerici.
“Every day I have seen the cranes,” Sibelius wrote in his diary in 1915, four years after this work’s premiere. “Flying south in full cry with their music. Have been yet again their most assiduous pupil. Their cries echo throughout my being.”
Similarly, it was a powerful impression left by a natural phenomenon that inspired the second work on the SSO’s Rachmaninoff on Fireprogramme, Dean’s own Fire Music, which turned the wisps of mist to acrid smoke.