Regarded as one of the most promising young conductors today, Joshua Weilerstein drew very well merited enthusiastic applause. It is to be hoped that we shall see him at the Lighthouse again before long.
Sibelius’s Spring Song, composed in 1894 is one of the composer’s earliest tone poems and seldom heard. So it was particularly interesting to hear it in concert, especially given such an atmospheric reading as Weilerstein’s. He eschewed the use of a baton for this evocation of ‘a Nordic spring and, in particular, its quality of light. The young American maestro’s conducting style was bouncily animated. (His biographical details are a little scanty and it was only after a longish search that I discovered he was born in 1987.)
Weilerstein took up the baton for the remainder of the programme and was joined by the young, handsome Alessandro Taverna (born in Venice in 1983) as soloist in Grieg’s ever-popular A minor Piano Concerto. The performance was fresh and vital and fully deserving of its thunderous applause. Taverna’s reading was powerful and commanding yet tenderly poetic in the quieter lyrical sections. The beautiful slow movement was particularly affecting.
The main item in the programme was Rachmaninov’s final work, his Symphonic Dances written on Long Island, New York in the Autumn of 1940. The concert programme notes omitted some fascinating detail including the facts that originally the work had an underlying programme, the three movements bearing the suggestive titles: ‘Noon,’ ’Twilight’ and ‘Midnight’ and that it had been intended to be choreographed by Fokine. Yet Rachmaninov was never to see the work danced in his lifetime and the exact details of the intended programme, if indeed there was one, remain a mystery. The dances were eventually choreographed in the 1980s and 1990s and in 2012 for various ballet companies across America.
Weilerstein seems to have made this work one of his specialities and he certainly brings the required rhythmic vitality and nostalgic lyricism to his reading. The opening movement has important separate solo work for alto saxophone and piano both solos lyrical and nostalgic in mood contrasting with the often bombastic sharp-sounding surrounding material. The enchanting, yet sometimes sinister, snarling (from muted trombones) central waltz movement had a meltingly lovely sweep and lilt. The final movement lets loose a whole battery of percussion to produce a movement that seems to have an obsessive devilish drive, apart from a central tender section, and quotes, as Rachmaninov often did, from the Dies Irae Weilerstein’s coda with its culminating gong stroke was very effective and quite stunning even if it was a little more abrupt than usual at this point. This was a very enjoyable concert.