Minnesota Orchestra has the audience floating

11.03.11
Minnesota Orchestra
St. Paul Pioneer Press

BY RON HUBBARD

Because Americans don't get much more land-locked than Twin Cities folks, your best means of taking a trip to the seaside might be via your imagination. If you'd like a little aural assistance for such a sojourn, you might want to stop by Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall this weekend. That's where conductor Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra are summoning up the sea with such evocative expertise that you can almost smell the salt and feel the waves undulating under your seat.

Setting sail with Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from his opera, "Peter Grimes," and bringing the audience safely back to port with Claude Debussy's "La Mer," it's an admirably cohesive program that provided a fabulous forum for the orchestra's gifts at Thursday's matinee. But the best reason to go evokes not the sea, but a wintry Finnish forest: Jean Sibelius' Violin Concerto, given a compelling performance by soloist Midori.

This was a case of an ideal convergence of talents. Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra are probably America's most respected Sibelius interpreters right now, and Midori might be at the peak of her powers, her ideas and emotions growing deeper by the year, her tone and technique never more impeccable.

On Thursday, her first-movement cadenzas were transfixing, both impassioned and chilling, drawing listeners in with whispers before erupting into breathless urgency. She brought out the agitated uncertainty lurking inside that movement but brushed it aside with confidence and strength on a lushly romantic rendition of the Adagio. While the finale wasn't stoked to a blaze, it was nevertheless a distinctive take.

The rest of the concert was a terrific showcase for the sound and skills that Vanska and the orchestra have developed together. Both Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" and Debussy's "La Mer" were so involving as to be out-of-body experiences.

Nearly as engrossing were orchestrations of two Debussy piano works, "Clair de Lune" and "L'Isle Joyeuse," the orchestra striking an ideal balance between enhancing the originals and keeping their quiet intimacy. They felt like brief but memorable stops on this enjoyable journey.