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Last-Minute Condutor Provides First-Rate Results

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 2, 2002

By Sarah Bryan Miller


Once again the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra had to call on a last-minute substitute conductor.
And once again, the substitute did well by them.


Last time, it was American conductor David Robertson taking over for an ailing Hans Vonk at Carnegie Hall last February. This week, it was British conductor Alasdair Neale stepping in for Edo de Waart, stuck in Northern Europe because of the horrendous weather last weekend that shut down transportation there. Neale, blond and affable, is music director of California's Marin Symphony and the Sun Valley (Idaho) Summer Symphony. He leads with big, angular gestures and an air of authority. And he certainly seems comfortable with Beethoven, the composer of all three of this week's works.


Perhaps it was the relatively early hour of Friday morning's 10:30 a.m. "Coffee Concert," but the ensemble seemed to take a little time to settle in. The performance opened with the Overture to "Coriolan," Op. 62, a good choice as the curtain raiser for what followed.


The Concerto in C major for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 56, the "Triple Concerto," demands three well-matched soloists, balanced with orchestra. It made for a fine opportunity to showcase the talents of Peter Otto, a member of the first violin section who joined the orchestra last season; Ilya Finkelshteyn, a member of the cello section from 1997 through last spring (he's now the principal cello with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra); and Seth Carlin, professor of piano at Washington University.


The three, all superb musicians, lacked some of the smooth sense of togetherness one finds in chamber ensembles that have played together on a regular basis, and there was a little uncertainty in spots in the first movement.


But everything was in place by the second movement. It opened with a beautiful solo from Finkelshteyn, seconded with playing of equal quality from his colleagues, which continued through the finale.


The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, also had its messy moments early on, but Neale and the orchestra soon hit their stride. There was nobility and expansiveness and a good sense of contrast in the second movement. The third movement was sprightly, although there was a definite sense, here and elsewhere in the concert, that the horns were having an all-around bad day.


Neale took the finale movement at a faster-than-usual pace, creating a real sense of excitement, and bringing the performance to a strong finish. It was a fine debut for an interesting young conductor.


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