Monday, January 18, 2016
NSO plays Eller, Prokofiev, and Sibelius
Esteemed Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi took the NSO's helm this past weekend in the first subscription concert since the announcement of music director designate Gianandrea Noseda (and the bittersweet end of conductor roulette). Thursday's show opened with "Five Short Pieces for Orchestra" an attractive mid-century work by Heino Eller, an Estonian composer championed by Jarvi, which offered a compelling showcase for the NSO strings.
The highlight of the evening was Prokofiev's first Violin Concerto, featuring a mesmerizing performance by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride. Skride and Jarvi created fine tension in a restrained, inward facing first movement, bringing the audience in close to catch the hushed solo. Skride then abruptly shifted gears for the raucous second movement, skillfully highlighting Prokofiev's biting sarcasm and giving free rein to harsh earthy sounds in the blistering passage work. When the third movement finally turns to indulgence, Skride delivered a pure, beguiling sound for the doomed cocktail music of the finale.
After the half, Jarvi opened with a raw reading of the first movement of Sibelius' Symphony #2, heightening the contrasts between the scattered motivic fragments that run into and over each other and eliciting some especially fine piano dynamics from the orchestra. A heavy hand in the grim second movement was perhaps too much at times, and the plodding tempo might have been partially responsible for some muddy sounds in the brass. Thankfully things snapped back into place for a precise scherzo and exquisite solos for oboe and clarinet, capped with an appropriately irresistible climax leading into the Finale. Here and there transitions felt overly generic and on-the-nose, but overall Jarvi brought the work to an exhilarating close.