It was a long time in coming, but Utah Symphony patrons finally got to hear music director Joseph Silverstein in Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy" for violin and orchestra. (Actually the full title is "Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra with Harp, Freely Using Scottish Folk Melodies.")
Originally announced for 1988-89, with Pinchas Zukerman conducting, it was eventually bumped from that program, only to reappear on this weekend's lineup Friday and Saturday in Symphony Hall. Which gave us associate conductor Kirk Muspratt on the podium with Silverstein as soloist in this "second-best" of the Bruch concertos.Well, second-best can still be pretty good, especially when it gets a first-rate performance, as was the case Friday.
Certainly Muspratt and the orchestra held up their end of things, from the properly portentious Prelude to the resolute strength of the Finale (based on the battle anthem "Scots wha hae").
But from his quietly penetrating solo entry the focus was clearly on Silverstein, whose controlled virtuosity never robbed the melodies in question of their native freshness or simplicity. Witness his luminous playing in the rhapsodic Adagio and unbroken concentration in the Andante.
At the same time the second-movement scherzo had a steely edge, highlighting its rustic flavor. And with Konrad Nelson's harp in balance, the Finale somehow managed to combine both the wistful and the warlike for a magnificently stirring close.
The focus was likewise on Silverstein in the evening's other major offering, Stravinsky's "Petrouchka," only this time on the podium, where he and the orchestra demonstrated once again why this ballet stands as one of the supreme masterworks of the early 20th century.
Perhaps we can never conjure up the drama that reportedly made Nijinsky's assumption of the title role so memorable (although a few years ago Nureyev succeeded in recreating it to a remarkable degree). But the tragic puppet still lives in Stravinsky's music, whether hurling himself against the walls of his room or despairing over his unrequited love for the Ballerina.
All that was evident here, in a complete performance of the composer's 1947 revision (largely undertaken to resecure the copyright) that caught not only the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the carnival scenes but the sinuous menace of the Moor's room.
True, those colors may have been a bit muted in places. But that had the advantage of bringing out the biting brass and percussion, as well as the vivid piano-and-trumpet dialogue of the second tableau (kudos to Ricklen Nobis and Nick Norton respectively). Similarly Silverstein's strong blocking of sections reminded one how much this ballet occasionally anticipates "The Rite of Spring" (which was in fact begun earlier).
In short, I have heard perkier, more fanciful accounts but none more tellingly detailed. And none that more successfully balanced the 1947 edition's frequently more compressed scoring against the swaggering weight of the concluding dances.
Earlier the evening opened with yet another Silverstein-directed performance, the Overture to Schumann's ill-fated opera "Genoveva." Premiered in 1850, it is seldom if ever revived, and one hears little in the Overture to warrant such an effort. Nonetheless it here came in for a solid performance, perhaps a bit heavy in spots but that is seldom out of place in Schumann, at least his more grandiose vein.
- REPEAT PERFORMANCE: In the Bruch "Scottish Fantasy" the choice is between the incisiveness of Heifetz (RCA) vs. the more natural expressivity of Lin (CBS), with Perlman (EMI) falling somewhere in between.
As for "Petrouchka," I still find the Monteux (RCA) and Stravinsky (CBS) recordings uniquely authoritative. But if the latest digital sound is required, you won't go wrong with Dutoit (London) in the 1911 original or Mehta (CBS) in the 1947 rescoring.