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“Give ‘em a great big Finnish ….”

New World Center
11/23/2013 -  & November 24*, 2013
Fryderyk Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43

Javier Perianes (piano)
New World Symphony, Osmo Vänskä (conductor)

J. Perianes (Courtesy of the Artist)

A program like this one is particularly enticing. These two concerts were probably the first of the season to sell out. However beloved works such as these are likely to satisfy an audience even if they are not particularly well approached.

We started with Chopin’s First Piano Concerto. Many is the time when the featured artist does little more than just offer the music. Often into the performance comes some sort of histrionics and we realize that works by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and even Chopin were sort of ignored or even assaulted in order to get greater applause. Onstage gimmicks might get attention today, but they will not well serve a musician’s legacy, unless you are Victor Borge or Liberace.

Javier Perianes has no need or desire to overact. He maintains his instinctive, unpretentious, baby-faced nature from beginning to end; it is more like massaging the ivories than tickling them. Mr. Perianes and conductor, Osmo Vänskä, seemed, however, to work at cross purposes. The orchestra approached the first movement with no finesse and Mr. Perianes’ delicate work did not sit comfortably in this insensitive surrounding. To his credit, he was unwilling to conform and his playing was unusually moving.

Mr. Vänskä chose appropriate tempos for the first two movements though the slowness of the third was not helpful to the audience or to the pianist and the piece became unfortunately static. With his piano concertos Chopin was far ahead of his time, foreshadowing what was to come from the Russians at the turn of the twentieth century. A great communication between orchestra and soloist is essential here.

A warmly received Mr. Perianes gave Chopin’s Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4 as an encore. He provided a spontaneity that no longer seems possible for this very familiar piece. Let’s hope that he returns to Miami often so that we get further lessons in how less is almost always more.

But after the intermission Mr. Vänskä was in his comfort zone with Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. This mammoth work has been done before at New World; and what audience wouldn’t beg to have it offered regularly? What I as a listener found interesting is how limited we are when exposed only to recordings. No recording I have heard of this work can give even a hint to the full presence of the pizzicato and one will never realize how essential the cello is in giving the orchestra its lead. Vänskä without a soloist was in much better control and the performance took shape from the first notes, never letting up before the triumphant conclusion. At the same time, with this enormously bold, sometimes even brash piece, Vänskä was unusually subtle. Moments when certain sections could easily overwhelm did not happen. Vänskä was also highly fortunate with the cool confidence of cellist, Aaron Ludwig, without whose command this work could teeter.

Osma Vänskä’s years with the Minnesota Orchestra are greatly revered in spite of the fact that the orchestra’s recent troubles seem to make the news regularly. Now that he is in demand throughout the world, let’s hope he returns to offer Finnish works that have never before been presented to South Florida.

Jeff Haller



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