Vänskä brings sweep and power to revelatory Sibelius with New World

By David Fleshler

Osmo Vänskä conducted the New World Symphony Saturday night in music of Sibelius and Chopin.

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.

Javier Perianes

Javier Perianes

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.

Posted in Performances

9 Responses to “Vänskä brings sweep and power to revelatory Sibelius with New World”

  1. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm by Jeremy

    Vänskä was rough and out of style in the Chopin. Perianes was transcendental, sublime. The orchestra was not at his best under him. The Sibelius was better but also too powerful. Between Perianes and Vänskä two worlds apart. The encore made it evident.

  2. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm by Ath

    At Jeremy: clearly you don’t have an understanding of the depth and insight of vanska s musicianship. We in Minnesota miss him greatly!

  3. Posted Nov 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm by Dave R.

    Spectacular, memorable Sibelius Sunday afternoon. Breathtaking.

  4. Posted Nov 25, 2013 at 12:11 am by Elizabeth Erickson

    What I would give to hear Osmo conduct Sibelius again. We Minnesota Orchestra fans fell in love with Sibelius under his baton. I’m spoiled forever.

  5. Posted Nov 25, 2013 at 6:11 am by Jeremy

    Vänskä is a great conductor and first class musician. The Chopin was not his best, it was rough, clearly not his most beloved piece, and the Sibelius was great but too powerful. Nothing against such a venerable maestro. I admire him greatly. Bravo to the NWS for bring him and Perianes, a superb and noble pianist.

  6. Posted Nov 25, 2013 at 7:29 pm by Bart Rood

    Well rehearsed and played. Not too powerful for me. I certainly hope Vanska will be back at New World soon. One of the seasons highlights for me.

  7. Posted Nov 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm by Dave R.

    Jeremy, I have to ask: What do you mean by “too powerful.” Too loud? Too emotionally overwhelming?

  8. Posted Nov 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm by ArthurHorowitz

    We in Minnesota want our symphony orchestra back. We want Osmo back . We want a new Orchestra Board direction and a new orchestral association management. The destruction of one of the world’s best orchestras by incompetent governance should not be tolerated. By the way almost anything Osmo decides to conduct provides a new insight on what the piece could be.

    You were treated to Sibelius-but just listen to his Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner. Osmo is one of the world’s ten greatest living conductors, just as the Minnesota orchestra had become one of the WORLD’S 10? greatest symphony orchestras before an incompetant orchestral management decided cover up their incompetence by trying to get the musicians to pay for their mistakes.

  9. Posted Nov 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm by Bruce

    I wish I could hear that concert as I could not attend and consider Vanska one of the best conductors in the world. Anyone know if there is a podcast available?

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Sun Nov 24, 2013
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