Minnesota Orchestra brings fresh take on classical icons

03.12.12
Minnesota Orchestra
Palm Beach Daily News

By Marcio Bezerra

As discretely as her famously reserved citizens, Minnesota has been a major classical music center for more than a century. And not only metropolitan areas such as the Twin Cities have excellent venues and ensembles virtually every small town has a bustling musical life, featuring concerts in church halls and civic centers year round.

Additionally, the state is a hotbed for contemporary music and many major American composers are either born or associated with Minnesota.

All this activity is undertaken without much fanfare, almost as matter of fact. That may explain why the Sunday concert by The Minnesota Orchestra at the Kravis Center took many in the audience by surprise: It was as if some were not expecting the high standards set by the ensemble at Dreyfoos Hall.

And what high standards they were. Under the exceptional music director Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra managed to give revelatory readings of three staples of the repertory, making them sound fresh and electrifying.

The program started with Johannes Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. By the way that Vänskä conducted the first variation (with the repeats emphasizing different voices each time), one could tell that his conception of the work had such clarity of voicing that countermelodies and short motives seldom heard in the thick of the orchestration were to be brought forth.

As result, the audience was ready to jump on its feet after the first piece of the program. And jump they did at the end of the next work, Jean Sibelius’ Concerto for Violin in D minor, Op. 47. From the unparalleled ultra soft start, violinist Midori Goto proved to be a formidable partner as she had not only the solid technique and refined musicianship required by the work, but she also shared in Vänskä’s penchant for drama.

The result was a astounding reading, in which Sibelius’ edgy late romantic style was not smoothed out but ?amplified.

The second part consisted of a single work, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Although the many extra musical meanings associated with “Beethoven’s Fifth” have clouded the work’s true revolutionary nature, one can easily say that no other piece of music has been such an instrument of aesthetic, technical and cultural change as this one.

Once again, Vänskä’s attention to detail brought forth motives and musical cells not usually heard. While one could take issue with his stylistic liberties (such as change of tempi in the second and third movements, and his preference for extreme contrasts in dynamics) his reading was a refreshing change that stripped the piece of its many clichés.

That the audience understood the revelatory level of the orchestra’s performance was made clear by the standing ovation and repeated bows taken by Vänskä and his band. All in all, this was a concert that will be remembered.