Vänskä brings sweep and power to revelatory Sibelius with New World
The strife in conductor Osmo Vänskä’s professional life has been one of the major classical music stories this year.
In a labor dispute that threatened to derail his achievements in leading the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003, the orchestra’s management canceled its concerts of Sibelius symphonies at Carnegie Hall. Having said these performances of works by his Finnish compatriot were extremely important to him, Vänskä announced his resignation last month, a major blow to an ensemble bidding for a place among the elite U.S. orchestras.
Vänskä’s deeply nuanced, revelatory way with Sibelius was on display Saturday night in Miami Beach, where he conducted a concert by the New World Symphony. Full of swirling drama and towering climaxes, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 has been taken by some to be an expression of resistance to the Russian occupation of Finland that prevailed at the time of the work’s 1902 premiere in Helsinki.
Under Vänskä’s baton, the drama was certainly present. He favored extremes of volume, from passages that were barely audible to eruptions in the full orchestra that practically shook the walls of New World Center.
Yet what was most striking about the performance was the pacing and suspense he brought to it, particularly in the second movement, the work’s longest. He brought to the movement an almost Mahlerian tension, allowing rests to stretch out in moments of pure silence, reducing the volume to barely audible taps in the timpani and a hint of sound in the winds, and then leading the orchestra through a swift and shocking crescendo.
If at times the balance among sections lacked some of the orchestra’s characteristic refinement, it was worth it for the sheer strength of the performance, one that gave this work an unaccustomed inwardness and depth. His work with the orchestra’s brass section was particularly effective, as he drew an immense range of colors from the instruments— gruff and clipped, soaring and epic, brooding and grumbling, and finally heroic.
The concert opened with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by the Spanish pianist Javier Perianes. His fluent, smooth style showed a natural affinity for the long, flowing melodies with which the work abounds.
Yet the soloist lacked the fire and dash needed to really bring off this youthful concerto, ambling through runs in octaves and climactic passages that seemed to call for a lot more firepower than he provided. At times the orchestra covered up his playing. Perianes’ performance contrasted strikingly with the thundering orchestral tuttis under Vänskä, and there’s something not quite right when the most exciting parts of a Chopin concerto are the symphonic passages.
As an encore, he performed Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor, giving an eloquent, velvet-toned performance that showed his idiomatic feeling for the composer’s yearning lyricism.
The program will be repeated 2 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach. nws.edu; 800-597-3331.
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Sun Nov 24, 2013
at 12:43 pm