Meet the New Boss

CAMA/London Philharmonic Orchestra

Conducted by Osmo Vånskå, with Sergey Khachatryan, violin. At the Arlington Theatre, Wednesday, March 8.

A day before this concert, I got word from CAMA that the man scheduled to conduct it, Kurt Masur, had fallen ill and was to be replaced by Osmo Vånskå. CAMA was understandably anxious about this, but once I had been told that Vånskå would conduct the same program, I was not. When the scheduled soloist drops out, that usually means a considerable adjustment in expectations. But once a conductor has gotten to a certain level of achievement — Osmo Vånskå is music director of the Minnesota Orchestra — and the orchestra has been well-rehearsed, you are going to get something quite close, at least in quality, to what you would have gotten. At such late notice, even if he had wanted to, Vånskå wouldn’t have had time to change anything. In the event, he did a splendid job.

They began with Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, an early work and a relatively engaging one. Three of the four whimsically titled movements (“Boisterous Bourrée,” “Playful Pizzicato,” “Frolicsome Finale”) were mostly uneventful, full of false starts and half-hearted gestures, but I have to hand it to Ben for making a real effort in the slow movement, “Sentimental Sarabande.” Here he actually held my attention for pages at a time, and even managed to brush my emotions ever so lightly once or twice. The Britten was followed by Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, with 21-year-old Sergey Khachatryan doing the honors on the fiddle. The other 20th-century concerto this most closely resembles is the Nielsen, with its very long passages for unaccompanied violin, the overall crushing demands made on the soloist, and the generally defiant and heroic tone. Khachatryan is nothing short of astounding, and he got by far the most applause of the show.

The evening ended with an utterly gorgeous and translucent performance of Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 64. I have been hearing a lot of the 4th lately, and the 6th “Pathetique” is always with us, but No. 5 is my personal favorite of Tchaikovsky’s numbered symphonies (I love the Manfred Symphony best of all). The orchestral playing was faultless and luminous from first to last, but seemed to take on additional luster in the Tchaikovsky. It was a very satisfying concert.

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