Music review: Minnesota Orchestra

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Without doubt the Minnesota Orchestra are back with a vengeance, their fortunes completely transformed by conductor Osmo Vänskä after they nearly folded four years ago.

Star rating: *****

Venue: Usher Hall

Sibelius dominated the first half of the concert with the orchestra superbly capturing the Finnish composer’s folk-inspired soundworld in the symphonic poem Pohjola’s Daughter. The string section is phenomenal, its cut-glass precision and expressive responsiveness make it one of the best in town this festival.

However, even the strings had to take a back seat to violinist Pekka Kuusisto in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor. Playing almost without pause, he negotiated some fiendishly difficult passages and cadenzas with virtuosic ease, and took melancholy to a whole new level in the exquisite adagio. Although the writing requires some restraint on the part of the orchestra, the bassoons and horns were often frustratingly indistinct. Kuusisto’s encore of the Swedish traditional song We Sold Our Homes, an anthem for our times, was profoundly moving with Vänskä providing the sultry clarinet parts.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was everything it should be in the hands of Vänskä: bold, boisterous and utterly brilliant. Once again the strings were in cracking form right down to the gorgeous barely-there pianissimos. Pure musical dynamite.

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