Lydia Artymiw & Stanisław Skrowaczewski — Images via &

Stanisław Skrowaczewski & Lydia Artymiw

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra
Works by Wagner, Mozart, and Brahms

As the Minnesota Orchestra lockout continues through a second year with no end in sight, the orchestra’s musicians have dedicated themselves to presenting a regular series of monthly concerts, expanding upon last season’s more sporadic offerings. After October’s emotional farewell concerts featuring conductor Osmo Vänskä just a few days after his resignation, this month’s concerts seemed more about demonstrating that the musicians are in it for the long haul. Conductor laureate Stanisław Skrowaczewski, making his third appearance during the lockout, was joined by pianist Lydia Artymiw in a program of Wagner, Mozart, and Brahms.

The program began with the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Skrowaczewski’s rendition of the Prelude was restrained and mysterious, while the Liebestod received a more lushly romantic performance. In the latter, Skrowaczewski managed to match the intensity of the alternative soprano version with his purely instrumental forces, building the tension as the piece surged toward its climax.

Next came Artymiw’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, a piece that appeared just a few weeks ago on a program of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra featuring Christian Zacharias. In contrast to Zacharias, Artymiw placed the piano in a much more dominant position, with the focus squarely on the solo part. Artymiw approached the piece with an attitude of exploration, making the music sound fresh and, in parts, almost improvised. Her performance of the slow, often tentative central movement was especially moving, and she and the orchestra dashed off the energetic finale with a seemingly effortless, buoyant interplay of its many moving parts.

During Johannes Brahms’s lifetime, he and fellow composer Anton Bruckner were often held up as exemplars of two contrasting approaches to music, particularly in the realm of the symphony. Skrowaczewski is probably most well known as a conductor of Bruckner, and I do not think I was imagining that his rendition of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 sounded a bit more like Bruckner that one would normally expect. In the conductor’s transparent and precise performance, the architecture of the symphony came to the fore, revealing facets of Brahms’s craft that can often go unnoticed. Skrowaczewski was particularly successful at sustaining interest throughout the long opening movement and highlighting the contrasts in the constantly developing finale.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have lost a great deal during the lockout, including their music director, several of their most prominent colleagues, and of course their paychecks. But this week’s concerts demonstrated that they have retained their coherence as an ensemble and their ability to present compelling performances that say something meaningful about the music.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.