Verdi, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Brahms: Andrew Litton's program for the final Friday of the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest (vintage 2008) could hardly be accused of adventurousness.
Yet the evening, enlivened with capital performances, proved more rewarding than the conductor's repertory choices had foretold. Even Korngold's 1947 Violin Concerto, redolent of Hollywood, offered cues for cogitation.
The Overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," played Friday as a warm-up and teaser for Saturday's semi-staged "La Traviata," is seldom encountered in the concert hall. Nor, for that matter, is it often heard in the opera house, where the sprawling "Forza" is now infrequently produced.
If unsophisticated musically -- overtures weren't Verdi's strongest suit, and he ultimately dispensed with them -- the piece is lit with Verdian lyricism and fire. In Litton's hands, the ominous opening was especially effective.
Written for the hypervirtuosic Jascha Heifetz, Korngold's concerto (which borrows liberally from his film scores) isn't just intermittently schmaltzy. It has schmaltz in its very soul.
This lands the post-Heifetz violinist in a quandary: Does one emulate the high-cholesterol crooning of the master (whose 1953 recording sets a daunting standard) or try, against the odds, to put the piece on a diet?
Soloist Vadim Gluzman struck out on his own. Partnered vigorously by Litton (whom he's known for 15 years), the Israeli violinist deftly eschewed Heifetz's stylized, it's-all-about-me manner. This diminished the expressiveness of some passages but paid dividends in others.
Though still sounding like a period piece, the concerto lost much of the cloying sweetness that has kept it on the margins of the repertoire.
Gluzman (who might have played more softly at times) displayed a certain charisma, wandering the front of the stage during rests, occasionally miming the music. And while his party-trick encore was a little condescending for my taste, it seemed to please many.
Litton's red-blooded account of Brahms' First Symphony, reminiscent of recordings made 60 years ago, was the best thing I've heard him do.
The weight and vehemence of this music, often compromised by the strictures of modernist performance, were undiluted.
The dramatic outer movements brooded, throbbed and soared; neither mystery nor momentum was lacking.
Timpanist Jason Arkis, flutist Adam Kuenzel, clarinetist Burt Hara and horn player Herbert Winslow made particularly distinguished contributions to a performance that evoked the inner turbulence of the 19th century's most misrepresented composer.
Larry Fuchsberg writes often about music.