The Cleveland Orchestra served up a delicious two-course feast of Scandinavian music at the Adrienne Arsht Center, at the mid-point of its annual Miami residency.
Nikolaj Znaider gave a stirring performance of Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto (1911), a Dane playing a Dane. Launching into the introductory cadenza, the first of three, Znaider immediately demonstrated impressive technique and the richness of tone he produced from the 1741 “Kreisler” Guarnerius ‘del Gesu’. Nielsen strongly focuses on the violin, the orchestra has a less prominent role, and this account fairly reflected. Znaider serenaded sweetly and dazzled with intricate pyrotechnics – especially in the other lengthy and intricate cadenzas. Franz Welser-Möst was an able partner, keeping the orchestra in balance with Znaider and generating energy in tuttis. Znaider steered the charming theme that dominates the second movement through a gamut of mood-changes, and the performance as a whole made a strong case for giving Nielsen’s Violin Concerto greater exposure.
Sibelius was represented by his Second Symphony, the most popular of his works in that form and often regarded as symbolic of Finland’s aspirations for independence. Sibelius denied any such intent. The Second is completely satisfying as an abstract work, as Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders demonstrated. The strings were full-throated in the surging opening theme and flawless in the Andante’s pizzicatos, with fine contributions from the double basses and cellos, the latter sweetly melodic and also persistent in ostinatos. The woodwinds, especially flutist Joshua Smith, added personable textures, and the horns and brass rang out resplendently in the exultant Finale.