Da Ponte, who grew up in the Azores, wrote The Rising Sea based upon a poem called Ídilio by Antero de Quental. An OSO premiere, the piece was a mysterious, largely atonal sound painting, with susurating entrances and exits, strange quacking mutes in the brass; densely textured and programmatic it was a worthy piece to hear.
Cellist Johannes Moser, last with the OSO for the Schumann concerto in 2014, returned as soloist for Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. Moser was charismatic and even dashing; holding the audience and orchestra alike in the grip of his intensity, he seemed simultaneously to be having way too much fun. Displaying a deft, even delicate touch even in the bold exposition, he interpreted the melodies lovingly--heroic when called for, yet not bombastic. In the Allegretto he made the moment feel like a strophic song somehow, leading a marvelous balancing act with the orchestra. Much of this work was high up on the instrument, yet his technique in the lower registers was affective and moving. An effortless technician, he succeeded in bringing out the very heart of this piece.
Swiss conductor Baldur Brönniman had a difficult challenge with the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 in D Minor. There is a tendency to make this piece weighty and ponderous, yet all the material is there for an interpretation that is almost the exact opposite, and Brönniman elicited this from the OSO.
In the first movement, the dialogue between high and low strings was profound and direct--no equivocating here. The clarinet solo was not haunting, yet somehow austere and lonely. The ominous intrusion of the piano and brass set off a fine frenzy with the rest of the group, and later as the hubbub receded, the flute and horn duet was a moment of singular beauty. In the second movement the bassoon solo was saucy, like a grand, grave, darkly humorous waltz, and in the third movement the trio with two flutes and harp was spare and sonorous, followed by a broad elegy from the strings. Like a fierce Slavic folk dance, the grand arrival at the finale was the fulfillment of the long promise beforehand.
Brönniman was brilliant all evening, but especially so in the Shostakovich. There are so many gems large and small in this monumental work, and the conductor expertly picked them all out, deftly shepherding the players through this task. A deeply pensive work like this could trend toward the dull, yet it never went there; Brönniman and the OSO were constantly engaging and energetic, and the Saint-Saëns and Shostakovich were nothing short of a triumph. One hopes to see Baldur Brönniman at the helm of the OSO again soon.