The Argentinian soloist provided a subtle range of color.
But being a Chopin soloist means Fliter inevitably brought along one of Chopin's two concertos. In my opinion, they are the most inept concertos by any major composer of the nineteenth century, kept alive by the composer's name alone. I wish Fliter, or another pianist, would just play the solo parts without the orchestra. The result would be an engaging suite previewing Chopin's future as he blossomed into perhaps the most important piano composer of all time. This would free the music from the virtually irrelevant and clumsy orchestral role, which leaves no room for serious interaction with the soloist.
That said, Fliter played her part with stylish elegance, her deft finger work full of pearly runs and sensitive rubato, providing a subtle range of color. Curiously, at the end of the Friday performance, she did not offer any encore, Chopin or otherwise.
The program's real substance came in the two framing works. Maestro John DeMain astutely chose Benjamin Britten's "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge." This extended work for strings takes a somewhat amorphous bit by Britten's teacher and uses it as the starting point for ten sections. They are not variations in the traditional sense, more like individual character pieces that mix striking harmonic ideas with clever parody and wit. (It would have been helpful to have descriptions of all the variations in the program to know what I was hearing.)
Britten composed his 1937 score for a small string orchestra, but it is rewarding to hear it played by the orchestra's 55 players. DeMain has forged these musicians into an extraordinary ensemble, and they sound glorious. The maestro avoids wallowing in simplistic sonority, and keeps the parts crystal clear. The result: a brilliant performance of a splendid work.
As the conclusion, MSO presented Robert Schumann's D-minor Symphony. This is a powerful piece, and one of his most experimental and forward-looking scores -- a pioneering study in symphonic integration. DeMain set a propulsive pace, sustaining excitement even in quiet passages. The magnificent orchestral playing aided the night's thrilling conclusion.
The MSO repeats the program Saturday evening (8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (2:30 pm), Feb. 14 and 15.