Although Minneapolis’ renovated Orchestra Hall continues to lack the orchestra that is its raison d’être, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, locked out for more than 13 months, have not gone silent. In venues across the city, they are offering a distinguished series of self-produced concerts that seek to maintain and renew their relationship with the public.
Last month brought Osmo Vänskä’s wrenching farewell; next month brings former music director Eiji Oue in an all-Tchaikovsky evening at the Minneapolis Convention Center. And on Thursday, in the flattering acoustics of the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall, an exceptional Mozart-Wagner-Brahms concert, with pianist Lydia Artymiw and conductor laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, brought a capacity crowd repeatedly to its feet.
Like the conductor, who lives in Wayzata, the pianist has a local address and a global reputation. Artymiw was born in Philadelphia to Ukrainian parents. And although she is Distinguished McKnight Professor of Piano at the University of Minnesota, she is too seldom heard in these precincts.
Artymiw’s spare, articulate account Thursday of Mozart’s A-major Piano Concerto, K. 488, was emblematic of her art. Her Mozart is a man of flesh and blood, neither marble nor marzipan; she captured both the grief of the slow movement, one of Mozart’s most affecting, and the comic-opera élan of the finale.
Audibly engaged with the orchestra, she compelled the attention of an audience just seared by the transcendental sensuality and massive sonorities of the “Prelude and Love-Death” from “Tristan and Isolde,” Richard Wagner’s 1859 opera of insatiable desire.
Wagner excerpts, once a concert staple, have lately looked like an endangered species; performances like Skrowaczewski’s may spark a revival. In the Prelude the conductor built an overwhelming climax, giving full weight to the music’s silences and reveling in the passionate legato of the orchestra’s extraordinary cello section. The “Love-Death” was radiant.
Brahms wrestled for years with his epic First Symphony; his often-serene Second (1877), which closed Thursday’s program, took him all of five months.
Vigorous at 90, Skrowaczewski, who has recorded this symphony at least three times, knowingly unfolded its remarkable synthesis of Beethoven’s logic and Schubert’s song. The music’s tragic and elegiac elements were given unusual latitude. And in the ravishing coda of the first movement, Herbert Winslow played the gorgeous horn solo — perhaps the most beautiful of Brahms’ many gifts to that instrument — to perfection.
Larry Fuchsberg writes about music.