Concert Review: A 19-Year-Old Violinist’s Energy, Precision Highlights Night of Finnish Music

01.20.12
Caroline Goulding
D Magazine

By Wayne Lee Gay

Finland’s cold climate has produced a good deal of musical warmth, as demonstrated by an all-Finnish concert featuring the Dallas Symphony under the baton of Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen Thursday night at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

Inkinen opened the evening with Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Manhattan Trilogy of 2004, a work which, though obviously inspired by an American setting (and commissioned by the Juilliard School, where Rautavaara studied during the 1950s), definitely continues the legacy of Jean Sibelius’ opulent early twentieth-century romanticism. In the three sections, somewhat enigmatically but evocatively titled “Daydreams,” “Nightmares,” and “Dawn,” Rautavaara creates an emotional vocabulary liberated from, but recalling traditional romanticism. This is not the language of Wagner or Brahms or Sibelius, but the emotional response it brings forth from the listener is similar. The thickly scored strings predominate, and co-concertmaster Nathan Olson carried the almost concerto-like obbligato in the first movement impressively. In Rautavaara’s music, the concept of the orchestra as a source of striking and beautiful sound lives on in the twenty-first century; even the “Nightmares” movement is innovative, frightening, and gorgeous, all at the same time.

In the second work on the program, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Conductor Inkinen and 19-year-old violin soloist Caroline Goulding entered aggressively against the delicate orchestral introduction. Goulding continued the performance with a winning combination of precision and energy, with a lovely tone to boot. In this work, gloriously lyrical material strains against Sibelius’ almost willful adherence to a traditional structure, but the coda came across, as it should, as a surprising exclamation.

After intermission, Inkinen turned to one of Sibelius’ most engaging and inspired scores, his Fifth Symphony, completed in 1919. Here, Sibelius has mastered symphonic form and made it his servant rather than his master—as, for instance, when he transforms a neo-classical minuet into an intensely emotional moment in the middle movement. And the combination of craftsmanship and creative courage that is the hallmark of Sibelius’ music came through wonderfully in Inkinen’s concise but passionate reading.