Saturday, May 20, 2023

Orchestra Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Daníel Bjarnason opened the concert with his own Blow bright (2013, the title taken from a Philip Larkin poem), bubbly and tumultuous, rhythmically complex, with fathoms-deep mysterious recesses, and the active sense of something living trying to break free from confinement, waves of sound rippling with incident for ten or so minutes; whether there was an escape is difficult to surmise but Blow bright keeps the ears pinned to the music whatever the notes’ inspiration. Following which, Helen Grime’s Violin Concerto (2016) makes an instant impression through energy and attack, not least from the soloist, here Leila Josefowicz unstinting in her emphasising and intense lyricism, the orchestra busy (once again), then subsiding into enchanted territory if not without shadows before regaining earlier powers to send this single-movement, twenty-minute Concerto to a frenzied if ambivalent conclusion, music that also holds the attention rewardingly. From a Scottish composer to Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony (No.3) was equally of good things – Bjarnason investing much promise into the introduction, subsequently fulfilled with a vital and shapely first movement sparking along with details of scoring colourfully highlighted suggestive of a rugged landscape (exposition repeated); and then – all attacca (as composer-requested) – a Highland Fling of a Scherzo (horns encouraged, strings unanimous) followed by an eloquent Adagio, at times impassioned, rounded by a Finale of drive and bite, and ultimate majesty. Impressive.