Monday evening, Minnesota Orchestra and music director Osmo Vänskä will take to the stage of Carnegie Hall. The New York audience should be dazzled.
The centerpiece of the program, heard Friday night at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, is "Kullervo," a tone poem by Jean Sibelius. Based on an epic poem of Finnish folktales, it tells a grim story, but the exquisite music was played expertly.
This work is quintessentially Finnish. Fellow Finns -- soprano Päivi Nisula, baritone Hannu Niemelä and the YL Male Voice Choir -- joined Vänskä. It's hard to imagine a more authentic performance. Would it be blasphemous to hear echoes of Wagner, especially in the Introduction?
The second movement, "Kullervo's Youth," is marked "Grave," but Vänskä's reading started out almost sprightly. That made the descent into melancholy more dramatic, an example of Vänskä's keen sense of musical storytelling.
In the central movement, the tragedy becomes explicit. Kullervo seduces and rapes a maiden, only to discover she's his long-lost sister. At that realization, she kills herself.
The strings depicted Kullervo's cocky arrogance. The orchestral depiction of the rape was both graphic and harrowing; Vänskä spared no emotional detail. Oratorio-like, the chorus narrated the story. Its performance was haunting, shaking the rafters at times and with moments of delicate utterance.
From her initial angry rejection of Kullervo to her eventual succumbing, Nisula was a great vocal actor as Sister. Her warm, lyric soprano conveyed her youthful innocence and tragic fate.
As Kullervo, Niemelä's rough-hewn baritone seemed challenged by the upper reaches. But his was a compelling performance that sacrificed tonal beauty to convey his intense reaction to the suicide.
By contrast, the fourth movement, "Kullervo Goes to Battle," is a jaunty march. For all its high spirits, Vänskä gave it, in the outbursts of brass and percussion, a macabre edge.
It's the chorus that related "Kullervo's Death." Beginning with folk song-like simplicity, it built to an emotional crescendo that ultimately transcended words to an orchestral climax of gut-wrenching torment.
The Carnegie Hall performance also will include the late Michael Steinberg's adaptation of Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge," heard at Orchestra Hall Feb. 18-20.
Friday's concert opened with Sibelius' Suite from "Karelia." The buoyant horn fanfares that began it signaled a much more joyous composition. Vänskä led an exuberant, full-bodied performance .
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.