The evening got off to a shaky start with Anatoli Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake, a brief, evocative picture of exactly what the title suggests. It’s a gentle, understated work that calls mostly for fine textures and subtle nuances. Ticciati gave the piece a nice gloss, though without much definition or depth. The sublime sound was due mostly to the orchestra’s sublime string section, complemented by some lovely flute duets.
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 put Ticciati on more familiar ground. He showed better command of the material and did an outstanding job of balancing the volume and tempo of the orchestra with the soloist, Simon Trpceski. The complementary sounds worked very well, with the lush Romanticism of the orchestra providing a warm background for Trpceski’s bold, crisp piano.
With more room to work, Ticciati was able to develop some interesting dynamics, exploring the contrast between the dramatic piano lines and lyrical woodwinds in the adagio, and building up emotional swells for the familiar melodies of the final movement. He embellished the melodies with rich colors, and put a snappy cha-cha-cha ending on the piece (sorry, that’s what it called to mind) that brought the audience to its feet and even drew some cheeky whistling.
It is no denigration of Ticciati to say that the orchestra was better than the conductor in the concluding Sibelius work. In fact, simply conducting that piece without a score is an impressive achievement. Not only is the structure unorthodox, but the layering of the different sections and sounds grows increasingly complicated, posing some serious technical hurdles.
The individual sections of the orchestra were brilliant: precision work in the strings, especially in the unusual extended pizzicato sections; sonorous horns; rippling woodwinds; even a rumbling timpani that added just the right undercurrents. This critic could have listened to the captivating contrast between the top brass and low bass all night. But stitching all that together is a formidable task even for an experienced maestro, and Ticciati is not quite there yet.
That said, his work with the many dramatic pauses in the piece was masterful, perhaps reflecting his extensive experience with opera. It’s more typical of modern music experts to find meaning in the pregnant spaces between notes, and in that respect Ticciati seemed like an old hand. It would be worth a trip to Glyndebourne, where he will become music director of the opera festival in 2014, to see what he can do with Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Britten.
For now, the Sibelius symphony offers reason enough to see the orchestra this weekend, and be reminded of what world-class playing sounds like.