This intriguing program combined Elgar’s contemplative Cello Concerto with two works less often heard in Symphony Hall. The concert opener was Sibelius’s Pohjola’s Daughter, last played by the BSO under Colin Davis in 1980. The piece was inspired by an episode in the Finnish epic, The Kalevala, in which the hero Väinämöinen seeks but fails to win the hand of the siren-like Maiden of the North. Dima Slobodeniouk led the BSO in an energetic and compelling account. Highpoints included Blaise Déjardin’s characterful treatment of the evocative cello solo at the outset and the appropriately majestic brass chorales in the final statement of the heroic Väinämöinen theme.
Good things continued to happen when Truls Mørk delivered a remarkably poised and poetic account of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, a work often on the BSO program, but until these performances featuring only Lynn Harrell or Yo-Yo Ma. Mørk’s highly distinct, lean and perfectly luminous tone suited the composition’s bittersweet lyricism as he sank deeply into the often-reflective score and brought detail to each phrase. The genial ensemble between soloist and orchestra, particularly in the opening, made for something highly memorable. As an encore Mørk offered a heartfelt rendition of Song of the Birds, a Catalonian folk melody made famous by Pablo Casals.
Finally an energetic and engrossing account of Carl Nielsen’s momentous Fifth Symphony, last given by the BSO – conducted by Simon Rattle – in 1993. In the haunting opening of the highly dramatic first movement a tremolo of agitated intensity in the string section was suddenly interrupted by Kyle Brightwell’s persistent and increasingly vehement snare drum. He kept up the troubling rhythmic pulse until the end of the Tempo giusto first section. In the more melodious Adagio non troppo second section of the movement, the drama intensified as the drummer sounded a dynamic attack on the rest of the orchestra. William Hudgins’s dreamy clarinet solo eventually brought the movement to a close, but in the equally tense successor the struggle continued with further intrusive surprises – pounding timpani and sudden exclamations by the woodwinds among them. Slobodeniouk’s elegant and understated conducting kept everything under control throughout the music’s precarious journey.