This weekend’s program by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is all about instrumental challenges and dazzle.
Led by the young Czech conductor Jakub Hruša in his SLSO debut, the highest point was the program’s middle work, Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic Violin Concerto in D minor with soloist Karen Gomyo, playing the Aurora ex-Foulis Stradivarius.
Gomyo, in a flowing red gown, demonstrated nonstop flair, authoritative presence and flawless technique throughout. Her performance was so dazzling that she received a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the first movement, and another one at the concerto’s bravura conclusion. Her lyricism in the second movement was no less convincing. Gomyo closed the first half with a very different encore, the Tango Etude No. 3 by Astor Piazzolla.
Hruša and the players were with Gomyo all the way, accompanying her masterfully. There was particularly notable work in the woodwinds, but everyone in the orchestra was at the top of their game.
The short second half belong to an impeccable reading of Dmitri Shostakovich’s relatively brief and distinctly cheery 1945 Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major. Its five short movements range from the bright and sarcastic to the pensive to the joyful.
It received a terrific reading from Hruša and the orchestra. The winds were standouts, including fine solo turns from associate principal trumpet Thomas Drake and principal trombone Timothy Myers to principal clarinet Scott Andrews, principal bassoon Andrew Cuneo, associate principal flute Andrea Kaplan and hard-working piccolo Ann Choomack. More well-deserved ovations were forthcoming.
The concert opened with Béla Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” Suite. Based on a notably vile 1917 Expressionist story by Hungarian playwright Menyhért Lengyel, Bartók’s ballet was banned in Cologne after its 1926 premiere; Bartók salvaged much of the music and turned it into a suite. It follows the story to a point: a trio of gangsters force a young woman to dance seductively in a window to lure men whom they can rob. The third and final victim is a wealthy Chinese man who takes a lot of killing. The suite omits the horrifying conclusion.
The music is noisy, brassy and fiendishly difficult. The work’s star is the solo clarinet, leading the female victim’s dances; associate principal clarinet Diana Haskell played them magnificently. Her colleagues rose to their own challenges with precision and aplomb.
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
When 8 p.m. Saturday; repeats 3 p.m. Sunday • Where Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand Boulevard • How much $25-$112 • More info 314-534-1700 or slso.org