|A girl and her Strad: Lisa Batiashvili.|
Photo © 2008 Sony Classics
Arena, written as a final piece for the initial Sibelius conducting competition in 1995, is a challenge for any conductor. This shifting, surging carpet of sound is laced with rhythmic tricks and tempo changes containing many hidden pitfalls for the man holding the baton. Mr. Gilbert avoided all of these, leading his forces in a nimble performance. This performance of Arena was a taster for the season finale in three weeks, which will feature Al largo, a new work by Mr. Lindberg, paired with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.
The Finnish connection continued with a superb reading of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. One of that composer's most popular (and most optimistic) works, the Concerto featured soloist Lisa Batiashvili. She played with elegance and precision, from the technical double-stops and difficult cadenzas of the first movement to the soft, singing lines of the second. The raucous finale, based on a Finnish folk dance, raised the energy level of the entire performance, allowing the orchestra and soloist to soar together to a triumphant close.
Alan Gilbert's interpretation of the Brahms Second Symphony was less successful. This is the most bucolic of Brahms' four symphonies, evoking the sunny countryside and cheerful peasant vein that Beethoven also explored in his Pastorale Symphony. However, in Mr. Gilbert's hands, the first three movements of the work lacked momentum and drive. The orchestral textures drawn from the Philharmonic were very beautiful, and lovingly played. But the thrust itself was missing. Only in the Finale did the work really take off, as the orchestra bit into the theme and began to race for home. It was a lovely tour through the Austrian countryside, but one wishes that Mr. Gilbert would step on the accelarator more often.