Dance

NWS Review: Warmth and Breath Under the Baton of Vanska

Posted By ArtBurst Team
November 8, 2015 at 6:41 PM

What with the crowded free wallcast outdoors just off Lincoln Road and the thrilling live sounds before a full house inside, the New World Symphony is the place to love and share the classics among friends, within a diverse, welcoming community of music lovers. Even by those standards, there was something special about Osmo Vanska’s gig with these young musicians November 23. He chose two fittingly youthful scores, Fréderic Chopin’s 1830 Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11; and Jean Sibelius 1902 Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43. It was a triumph. Before coming to the New World Center, Vanska has had a rough ride recently, a year-long labor dispute resulting in his reluctant departure from the Minnesota Orchestra he had led gloriously for a decade. Minnesota’s loss, frankly, is the world’s gain. He is without doubt one the finest conductors before the public today, and his thrilling turn with America’s Orchestral Academy was cause for celebration — of this artist, of the orchestra, of music. Chopin wrote both of his piano concertos before turning 21 and also before his life-long exile from his native Poland began. The Concerto No. 1 is in fact his second — it was just published after his actual first. It is in many ways a standard bearer of the Romantic revolution, breaking away from classical structures even as it absorbs them, treating the piano in much the same way that Vincenzo Bellini treated the voice. The score, in fact, demands the impossible: a singing, legato line from a percussion instrument. Javier Parianes did that, making the piano sing and sing beautifully. Here is a young pianist to watch. The majestic orchestral Allegro was a tease under Vanska’s baton, with the powerful NWS strings already hinting at the seduction to come. From the piano’s entrance, Perianes dominated the proceedings just as Chopin demands, with a delicate rubato that was never mannered but rather heartbreaking, always surprising and always right. Conductor and soloist seemed to breathe together here and also in the central movement, where the hushed strings merely ushered in not only the piano line but also the birth of Chopin’s later music. That the first few bars could easily serve as a prelude to a bel canto aria is no accident, and both Vanska and Perianes got this, letting the cadenza happen as naturally as a young lover’s impetuous embrace. Here and later in the Sibelius, Vanska made the silences count. For his part, Perianes captured the soul of the music, his tone at once assertive and delicate. Here, and in the Chopin Nocturne he gave as an encore after a rapturous standing ovation, he brought to mind the young Ivo Pogorelich, and most of all the great Brigitte Engerer, who passed away recently. The greatness of Sibelius grows in our esteem as the years pass, and his oeuvre certainly ranks with that of the great 20th century symphonic masters, Mahler and Shostakovich. His Symphony No. 2, nicknamed the Liberation Symphony after its premiere, was recognized as a nationalist work in the face of Russian aggression and also as an almost shockingly beautiful piece of music. The shock is in the structure. Sibelius embodies the Brahmsian tradition and takes it apart in visionary ways, to the point where melodic lines are hard to follow and yet add up to one vast and stirring song. Vanska’s loving, intelligent way with this score (it’s worth noting that both Sibelius and Vanska are Finnish) brought out the best in the NWS musicians: the woodwinds at their warmest from the first movement, the bassoons and subtle timpani strings in the massive Andante, the oboe’s plaintive chant in the scherzo, the strings impressive everywhere and most of all the silences. Oh those silences. Vanska knows how to handle Luftpausen, the pauses for breath that paradoxically add to both the tension and the victory in this music. And that victory came at the end, as it should, when Sibelius finally stops hinting and just gives us a rousing, sweeping romantic tune that these musicians made their own. This was great music-making. Photo credit: Greg Helgeson

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