Music Review: Miller and the VSO achieve new deep Romanticism

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra, at Saturday’s performance at The Flynn in Burlington, made an unusual foray into the Romantic repertoire, and the results were not only successful, they were sometimes spectacular.

Tania Miller led the orchestra in the contemporary fanfare, “Yatra” by Dinuk Wijeratne, to open the program. And the program closed with a bravura performance of Rachmaninoff’s devilishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 by the internationally famous Stephen Hough.

However, the revelation of the evening was the deeply Romantic Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 30. The Canadian Miller led the VSO in one of perhaps its best performances ever. She kept the orchestra taut during this rambling big work while exploiting all its lyrical beauty, reveling in its fiery moments. It was a downright exciting performance.

Miller, speaking to the audience in advance of the Sibelius, suggested they listen to the work as a journey — wise advice. Kelli O’Connor’s haunting clarinet solo, gently accompanied by Jeremy Levine’ tympani, set the pace for this irresistible journey leading to an emotional roller-coaster — including many eruptions of joy.

That thread of the journey remained taut, even inevitable, throughout, despite the work’s episodic nature — disparate episodes often erupting. The colors were sometimes vivid, sometimes nuanced, and passion seemed unfettered, thanks to some very precise and nuanced playing on the part of the VSO.

Miller and the VSO were able make this four-movement symphony with its extreme mood changes whole, more than that, irresistible. They delivered this grand Romantic work with real joy.

There isn’t anything much more Romantic than Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, and the British-born Stephen Hough, one of today’s foremost pianists, showed his command throughout. His moments of poetry, ease in the rapid-fire passages, and power in the more passionate ones proved most impressive.

Brilliance also opened the program. Wijeratne’s short brassy fanfare “Yatra,” though contemporary, mixing modern and traditional languages, was the perfect introduction to this Romantic program. It was a celebration of joyfulness — shared by the orchestra and the audience.

Miller brought something new to the VSO. She and the players achieved the deep beauty and excitement of Romanticism. It was a revelation.

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