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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