Bringuier took the stage briskly, without fuss, and wearing an immaculately tailored suit and big smile. He plunged immediately into Albert Roussel’s ballet-pantomime “The Spider’s Feast,” drawing from the orchestra a huge palette of dewy, subdued colors, delicately shaded. Bringueir’s gestures on the podium are big but never excessive. He communicated changes of tempo and meter precisely, and the musicians seemed to follow him effortlessly, in the subtlety of his musical imagery and the absolute mastery of his craft, Bringueir’s conducting brings to mind the great Pierre Monteux.
Shaham is in the highest echelon of American violinists, and a good deal more musical than many. The sound of his violin is pure, firm, astringent, conveyed with a silvery clarity that shines but never overshadows, and his right arm knows more than one way to color a sound and shape a phrase. Shaham’s approach to Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto was stylish and filled with infectious joy. The music’s many delightful surprises were noted but not dwelt upon, and the slow movement was spellbinding. In lieu of a solo encore, Shaham invited concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef to join him in a gavotte by Leclair in a performance so exquisitely understated that it left the audience breathless.
None of this was preparation for the second half of the evening, Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.” From the first measures, it was as though the room became incandescent, alive with vivid colors and irresistible rhythms. The brass and winds were brilliant, and the percussion battery in its element. It was vivid, committed, communicative music making of unequivocal virtuosity that left most of the audience, I suspect, with goose flesh nearly throughout.
Having heard the orchestra earlier this month playing Liszt’s Faust Symphony under Gianandrea Noseda, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the NSO is approaching a plateau of heretofore unrealized potential. Its artistry expressed with confident ease and flexibility. It sure sounds like it.