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A World of Danish Wonders

New York
Perleman Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
10/27/2011 -  
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Voyevoda Overture, Opus 3 – Piano Concerto Number 1 in B-flat minor, Opus 23
Carl Nielsen: Symphony Number 3 in D minor “Sinfonia Espansiva”, Opus 27

Karin Wolverton (Soprano), Jeffrey Madison (Baritone), Stephen Hough (Piano)
Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (Music Director and Conductor)

O. Vänskä (© Minnesota Orchestra)

While Finnish people dislike being grouped with Scandinavians, one Finnish native, Osmo Vänskä, is easily the most exciting conductor of Scandinavian music alive today. To hear him conducting the wondrous Carl Nielsen Third Symphony with the quite Nordic Minnesota Orchestra transformed a rainy Manhattan evening into a night of lights and shooting stars.

Not that a sizeable group of the Carnegie Hall audience was around to hear it. The Danish composer Carl Nielsen was in the second half, after Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto. So the intermission provided a getaway for–what seemed to be–close to a hundred listeners. They had come to hear Tchaikovsky, and weren’t going to hang around for–Dies irae, Dies illa!!–a composer whose name was unfamiliar to them.

True, Nielsen may not be everybody’s cup of Aquavit–he was supposed to be naive, bombastic, Brahms without tragedy. But when conducted with both energy and happy delight in landscapes and seascapes, Nielsen is a grand composer.

Mr. Vänskä started with those famous volleys of chords and worked his way to a waltz that would have swept Johann Strauss off his feet. Not a ballroom or Chopin waltz, but a waltz which spun off the Carnegie Hall stage into the auditorium, and back again.

The second movement was Nielsen’s slight but lovely pastoral interlude, where a two voices–soprano Karin Wolverton and baritone Jeffrey Madison–continued the orchestra vocalising with their own short vocalise. Actually, Nielsen wanted to have them sing the most apr words, “All thoughts disappear. I lie under the open sky”. But the music said it all.

With the two-horn opening of the Allegretto un poco, I realized that last evening, exactly 50 percent–four of the eight movements–started with horn solos. So a special huzzah to the Minnesota Orchestra First Horn Michael Gast, who made not a single error on that most unpredictable instrument.

The finale was basically Nielsen going back to his early Brahms period, with a Brahmsian theme and a confident, affirmative ending by Mr. Vänskä and his ensemble.

One could only pity those poor slobs who walked out before this wonderful work.

The evening started with one of Tchaikovsky’s earliest works, an overture to an opera which he threw away. The overture to Voyevoda was reconstructed, and while the first three minutes are simply repeats of the same opening horn theme, it ended with a triumphant folkish anthem that caviar to the muscular dancing conducting of Mr. Vänskä.

S. Hough (© Grant Hiroshima)

The audience did come to here the more popular Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and some of us came to hear that master of writing, painting, composing and piano playing, Stephen Hough.

His musical blogs are fervent, acrobatic, knowing and masterful. His Tchaikovsky was–like the the Tchaikovsky of Gergiev earlier this month–a work of dance and pleasure, not of mourning and self-pity.

No, that opening movement was tumultuous, stormy and tuneful, the virtuoso Russian composer-pianist at his best. The second movement was not piano and orchestra so much as opera and singer, a bel canto aria giving way to an Olympic marathon at the finale. Who would finish first, the Minnesota Orchestra or Stephen Hough??

They both finished on time, they both had a good time, as did we all.

Harry Rolnick



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