HeraldTribune (8.03.2009)

Orchestra from Estonia shares gifts in Sarasota
By GAYLE WILLIAMS, Correspondent

ESTONIAN NATIONAL SYMPHONY, Eri Klas, conductor. Joyce Yang, piano. Reviewed March 6 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

From the medieval walled city of Tallinn sitting on the Baltic Sea came the esteemed Estonian National Symphony to offer a quite enjoyable concert as part of the Sarasota Concert Association series. Under the direction of Eri Klas, the orchestra proudly introduced itself with “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” one of the seminal works of fellow Estonian Arvo Pärt.

Composed in 1977, the “Cantus” for string orchestra is built on single notes and chords of continuing duration punctuated by chimes in an almost imperceptible and never ending crescendo. This was Pärt’s own unique style which he called tintinnabuli to refer to the prolonged layering of sound similar to the result of church bells. If the listener is willing to patiently let the music unfold and envelope, the result is mesmerizing.

Pointedly delivering seascape imagery, the music shimmers, undulates, builds and wells until the inner movement ebbs and only the basses are moving. The tension builds to an irresistible need for resolution and is finally released into a lonely chime. The necessary subtleties and control were masterfully delivered for a satisfying result.

Approximately 200 miles to the east of Tallinn, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev made his mark in St. Petersburg and it was his “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26” that featured this evening’s soloist, Joyce Chang. A silver medalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Chang has obvious gifts which seemed not be on best display in this work. Perhaps it was an acoustical issue for those listening from the back rows of the hall, but the balance between piano and orchestra was such that frequently the intricate fingerwork and juicy bits were too much in the background. While this concerto is often an audience favorite, it still begs for a little more flair and punkish attitude.

From this vanilla landscape, the Estonians next looked across the Bay of Finland to the home of Jean Sibelius for his most popular “Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43.” Here the orchestra took the lid off and let loose an abundantly rich string sound and a buzz of brass for one of the best performances of this symphony in recent memory. Klas took the tempos on the spritely side and urged the musicians on to a passionately evocative interpretation with a keen sense of dynamic and phrase sculpting.