Estonian National Symphony Orchestra

03.21.09
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Kansas City Star

Estonia is a small country by most standards, but the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra displayed colossal musical talent Friday night.

In fact, its performance in Yardley Hall at the Carlsen Center was one of the most musically satisfying evenings of the entire season.

From the outset the orchestra proved to be a highly disciplined ensemble with a warm and well blended sound in the "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" by Estonian composer Arvo P'rt.

The orchestra's long, well-regulated crescendo was impressive, as was the dark, rich sound produced by the cellos and double basses.

Pianist Joyce Yang, a silver medalist in the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, joined the orchestra in Sergei Prokofiev's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major."

Piquant harmonies and incisive rhythms abounded in the opening movement. Yang not only deftly negotiated the virtuosic piano part--she also added a magnificent sense of line and color.

Conductor Eri Klas is by no means a flamboyant director. With an economy of motion he was able to control the multiple musical seams that appeared in each movement.

The second movement opened with a folklike theme that alternated with more turbulent sections. Again the orchestra made the tempo changes in impeccable fashion.

Sweeping emotional passages and dancelike rhythms characterized the finale. Once again, Yang played brilliantly, with technical proficiency and musicality.

The only flaws in the performance were a handful of rapid high violin passages with questionable intonation and blend.

The best work on the program was "Symphony No. 2 in D Major" by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Employing the fullest orchestration on the program, the work also featured the richest sound. The dark string and wind colors were highly conducive to Sibelius' music.

Again, Klas evoked maximum effectiveness in phrasing and dynamics from minimal gestures. At the opening of the second movement, the pizzicato in the cellos and basses remained precise even with a significant slowing of the tempo.

As the work progressed into the final two movements, the orchestra seemed to get better and better. The result was a compelling, edge-of-the-seat performance.

As an encore, the orchestra played Sibelius' best known work: the brief symphonic poem "Finlandia." Once again the sound was simply stunning.