Meza took a huge risk with Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto - an often-enigmatic late-period work that makes extreme technical and intellectual demands, not just of the soloist but of the ensemble (Symphony in C audibly struggled).
Meza did not struggle. His sonority is robust: Were he a singer, he'd be a fledgling Wagnerite. I haven't heard anything like it, though he can scale his sound back to achieve a more familiar kind of beauty. His energy helped carry listeners through the abstraction of the concerto's later passages, but his sense of musical subtext was his true distinction.
Initially, the piece sounds like Nielsen's greatest hits in a funhouse mirror, and later, in a blender. Tension simmers under a surface that's dominated by a doggerel-style tune. Soon, there's great irony amid the triviality. Musicians often confront such implied mysteries by just minding the letter of the score. In contrast, Meza gave every phrase a personal sense of direction. Given his rapport with snare drum solos (recalling the militant moments of the composer's Symphony No. 5) I wouldn't be surprised if a wartime theme was in the back of his mind.
Conductor Rossen Milanov had the concerto's many moving parts well coordinated, but even a bright-eyed group like Symphony in C can't be expected to digest this piece in a few rehearsals. Maybe that's why the concerto is rarely heard.
Beilman played the well-circulated Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in heroically broad strokes. His tone quality isn't distinctive (aside from a rock-solid lower register - a big plus), but the brain behind the sound burst with ideas, so much that even the most functional passage work was never merely repetitive. The danger with seizing upon such details is that the structural peaks, which come late in the first two movements, can fail to make their point. Yet Beilman always had more in reserve. The orchestra matched his energy level every step of the way. What a compelling performance.
So lightweight is Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 1 that you wonder if "compelling" is ever in the cards. You can hear Mozart writing down to the limitations of the 18th-century flute. But even with Milanov keeping the orchestration suitably light and buoyant, Hsiao didn't bring great sparkle to what's there until the final movement, and even then you wished she was playing any number of more substantial flute concertos written over the last 20 years. She's definitely promising. How promising remains to be seen.
Contact David Patrick Stearns at email@example.com.