Kaija Saariaho’s Winter Sky, arranged by the composer from Orion as a stand-alone piece, found NWS conducting-fellow Dean Whiteside controlling gradually increasing textural density and dissonance with poise and precision as various instruments, all pianissimo, take up the opening piccolo theme, which returns as an ostinato to pervade the still-soft conclusion.
Inon Barnatan then gave a superb performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Osmo Vänskä animated on the podium, setting lively tempos and drawing enthusiastic playing. In the first movement muscular attacks were interspersed with gentle dialogues that featured excellent clarinet and oboe solos, capped by Barnatan’s virtuosic way with the cadenza. The Intermezzo was radiantly romantic, the piano now conversing with the outstanding strings, the cellos’ sweet melody particularly noteworthy, succeeded by Barnatan digging into the Finale with renewed intensity, dashing off passagework and waltzing the work to its conclusion.
As an encore, he played Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, Opus 14, with refined lyricism and technical wizardry. Further Mendelssohn followed the interval: an atmospheric reading of his ‘Scottish’ Symphony. Vänskä’s engagement with the orchestra was all but tangible as he gestured dramatically, often leaning toward the string-players as if to bow their instruments with his baton, and the response was terrific. The dark aura established by the violas and winds in the introduction held good for the Allegro, with fine contributions from bassoon and horns as well as strings and timpani in the tempestuous episode. The movements follow on without pause, the Scherzo featuring a delightful clarinet solo, and the Adagio showing off not only the strings but also horns, trumpets and timpani, all of which were even more prominent in the Finale.