Conductor: Cristian Macelaru
Sibelius: Valse triste, Op. 44, No. 1
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 - Anne-Sophie Mutter
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, "The Inextinguishable"
When curious and eager to learn friends of mine ask for some guidance on how to approach the vast, complex and treasure-filled realm of classical music, a few works and names automatically spring to my mind. Sibelius' extraordinary violin concerto is one of them, the long-time queen of the violin Anne-Sophie Mutter is another. And if you get the latter to perform the former, you will likely be as close to music nirvana as you can get.
As luck would have it, Carnegie Hall made all the necessary arrangements to make it happen last week as part of an almost fully Nordic evening - The odd element out being Romanian-born conductor Cristian Macelaru - with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Jean Sibelius' "Valse triste" and Danish Carl Nielsen's "Inextinguishable" symphony, two early 20th century composers who have not reached the wide name recognition they deserve, possibly because of their unique, not easily categorizable vision.
That may also explain why my friend Christine and I gleefully took our seats among a particularly international crowd in a not quite full Stern Auditorium.
A short and exquisite crash course in Sibelius' trademark darkness, elegance and emotional power, "Valse triste" was the perfect titillating appetizer before the sizzling main course.
As Carnegie Hall's current Perspective Artist, Anne-Sophie Mutter is scheduled to appear multiple times on the prestigious stage this season. On Wednesday night, clad in one of her signature mermaid dresses that only she can really pull off, her looks were as naturally regal as her playing. Her gripping understated opening eventually gave way to the subtly yet viscerally expressive concerto, which superbly accomplished the difficult feat of being uncommonly virtuosic without being unnecessarily flashy. Accordingly, Mutter brilliantly succeeded in bringing the icy melancholy, somber elegance, stern grandeur and carefree rhythms of the composition to dazzling life, always keeping everything under control but also exuding freshness and spontaneity. Efficiently conducted by Cristian Macelaru, the excellent orchestra provided a rock-solid background to the rightfully spotlight-stealing soloist.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Anne-Sophie Mutter came back for a starkly beautiful Sarabande from unaccompanied Partita No. 2 by Bach, a most fitting tribute to maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the music director of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra who died last year. If there is a Heaven, he had to be there smiling.
After intermission we moved from Finland to Denmark for Nielsen and his "Inextinguishable" symphony. Written during World War I, it is first and foremost a vibrant tribute to music and to life whose every quiet moment is dexterously counter-balanced by another big climax. From its chaotic opening to its resounding grand finale, including an outstanding number by duelist timpanists, the orchestra swept us all on an eventful, uninterrupted journey while making sure not to let the life-affirming force that is music falter even so slightly. Having premiered it in the same hall in 1952, they had a sentimental interest in showing us how it's done, and they sure did.
We parted with the overture to Nielsen's opera Maskarade, a fun party favor that had us leave the hall smiling. On Wednesday night at least, the fire kept on burning.