Classical music review: Sibelius and Rautavaara make for an all-Finnish Dallas Symphony Concert

01.20.12
Caroline Goulding
Dallas Morning News

By Scott Cantrell

But for a 19-year-old American violinist, this week’s Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert is all Finnish all the time. Alas, at least on Thursday night, Pietari Inkinen proved that a Finnish conductor is no guarantee of revelatory insights into his countrymen’s music.

He did all right in Manhattan Trilogy by Einojuhani Rautavaara, at 83 the senior statesmen of Finnish composers. Commissioned for the centenary of New York’s Juilliard School, the quas-cinematic 2004 score recalls Rautavaara’s own Juilliard studies in the 1950s.

The opening “Daydreams” is surprisingly lush, dreamy solos for oboe, clarinet, violin, flute and horn woven through chords lapping over one another. “Nightmares” is menaced by anxious trills, sinister sounds rising from lower instruments, woozy trombone slides and tart taunts from brasses. In “Dawn,” flute and piccolo rise to sing their songs above string rockings before the music rises in a great dissonant hymn.

The performance did the job. The music itself pretty much went in one ear and out the other.

Caroline Goulding’s gutsy, earthy account of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, with an enormous tone, was the polar opposite of the usual cool, finely chiseled performances. It wasn’t how I hear this quintessence of Nordic music, but it was impressive and certainly held the attention. Technically brilliant young violinists grow on trees these days, but few have so strong a personality so early.

Inkinen ably kept things together. Sadly, that was about all to be said for his reading of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony.

Had I known nothing of Inkinen’s bookings with major orchestras and opera companies, I might have guessed him for a student. He did little but beat time generically, his left hand usually just mirroring his right. Hardly any gesture suggested phrase or musical trajectory.

The big brassy moments took care of themselves, those defiant final chords ringing stirringly in the Meyerson Symphony Center’s reverberation. But stretches of repetitive figurations had no shape or direction. With no beating heart, drained of most of its blood, one of the 20th century’s great symphonies was dead on arrival.