Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's return to Minnesota Orchestra after an absence of almost five years is a cause for celebration. Heard Thursday morning at Orchestra Hall, she triumphed with one of her signature pieces, Astor Piazzolla's "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires."
With that title, Piazzolla could not help but draw comparisons with Vivaldi. But the four movements were originally scored for a small ensemble. Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov transformed it into a violin concerto, adding specific musical references from Vivaldi's score.
He ingeniously quotes Vivaldi's "Winter" in Piazzolla's "Summer," to take into account the hemispheric difference.
Piazzolla was a master of the tango, revitalizing the dance form in many of his works. The "porteñas" of the original title, "Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas," refers to natives of the port of Buenos Aires, where the tango began. His homage retains the dance's sense of danger and sensuality, while adding a plaintive ardor, the energy of jazz and the dissonant harmonies of contemporary classical music.
Salerno-Sonnenberg played with a warm and seductive tone. She made the violin sing and wail, as well as playing dazzling arpeggios that gave more than a little nod to the Baroque.
She played with intensity, but also with a sense of playfulness. When not playing, she practically danced in response to the rhythms. Her joy was infectious.
Robert Spano conducted with real fire, giving the music a strong pulse without stinting the darker, sultry passages. The ensemble of strings played with the clarity of chamber musicians, but also with rousing exuberance. The extended cello solo by Anthony Ross was deeply felt and exquisitely played.
The concert-opening Suite No. 2 from Manuel de Falla's ballet "The Three-Cornered Hat" made a nice prelude to the Piazzolla. Each of the three dances is based on a different dance rhythm from a different region of Spain. A little more of the Latin flair that Spano brought to the Piazzolla would have helped the performance.
Aaron Copland was not a great symphonist, more comfortable with more intimate and personal forms. His Symphony No. 3 is full of the familiar sonorities of his accessible style, but frequently develops into something bombastic. This effect is exacerbated by Spano's conducting, veering from overwrought to rhythmically lax and almost dirgelike.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.