What followed was an elegant but rather empty performance of Mozart's Fourth Violin Concerto, with 30-year-old German violinist Arabella Steinbacher, whose impressive credentials in 20th-century music didn't guarantee insight into Mozart's subtler demands. The evening ended with a compelling, brooding, rhythmically idiomatic version of Dvorák's D-minor Symphony, No. 7.
I was sorry to miss the well-received BSO debut of Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo but happy to catch the return of another Finnish conductor, Susanna Mälkki (since 2006 the music director of Pierre Boulez's famed Ensemble InterContemporain — their performance of Boulez's Sur incise was a high point of last fall's Berlin Festival 85th-birthday tribute to Boulez). The centerpiece of her concert, which began with the BSO debut (!) of Haydn's exhilarating Symphony No. 59 and ended with Dvorák's songful Silent Woods, with cellist Alban Gerhardt, and a refreshingly clear, daylit account of Sibelius's Fifth Symphony, was the American premiere of Korean composer Unsuk Chin's dazzlingly orchestrated Cello Concerto (2008), with the breathtaking Gerhardt switching gears between exquisitely, endlessly spun-out, uncloying lyricism and thunder-and-lightning virtuosity. If I haven't yet entirely got a handle on this large-scale piece (four movements, half an hour long), that's because it's so fresh, unforced, and unclichéd, I don't know anything quite like it. Before the concert, program annotator Robert Kirzinger asked Chin whether she felt the concerto was closer to the mysterious Sibelius or the more formally classical Haydn, and she surprised him by answering Haydn. Maybe the best answer would have been neither - and both.
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