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'Double nickels' worth the price

11.12.13
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Times Union

By Joseph Dalton

TROY – “Double nickels” was the short hand description given to the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra’s program featuring the fifth symphonies of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.  The concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Monday night was presented by the Troy Chromatics.

Before the major currency of the program got under way, there was the Overture No. 2 by the players’ countryman Veljo Tormis. Pounding, racing and all around thrilling, this colorful and vibrant work from the late 50s was by no means a laid back warm-up.  Just on the edge of violent, it brought to mind the thick of battle.  That image was only strengthened during the serene inner section, which featured a placid trumpet solo.  Best of all, the overture gave quick indication that an outstanding orchestra had come to town.

Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 is certainly his most famous, but it’s still not heard all that often in concert so it was a welcome treat. On the other hand, hardly a summer goes by that Tchaikovsky’s Fifth isn’t on the bill at SPAC or Tanglewood or both.  Yet even that war horse was greeted with enthusiasm as performed by the Estonians and in our beloved Music Hall.

Throughout the program conductor Nikolai Alexeev showed fine rapport with the orchestra yet seldom pushed or imposed any extreme interpretive ideas.  If anything, his leadership was about restraint.  The opening of the Sibelius felt like waters continually rising against a mighty dam.  Likewise, in the Tchaikovsky there were subtle plays with tempo that became most obvious in the holding back.  The need to not over deliver makes the eventual climaxes all the better.

But personality, generosity and great skill were always obvious from the individual players.  The Sibelius was etched with fine detail, especially in the dry but haunting bassoon solo.  And in the Tchaikovsky, it was the brass, of course, who were the heroes.

A brief encore from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony was presented with particular merriment.  Conductor Alexeev took it as an opportunity for his own showmanship.  While keeping his arms folded on his chest, he led the mighty forces with the slightest nods, glances and tilts.  For the final bars, he turned to face the audience, allowing the orchestra to end things on its own.  Next, he teased the crowd to silence again, as if still more music was on the way, then waved good night and fled offstage.  But no one could leave this concert feeling deprived.