BURLINGTON — A jazzy new concerto by Chris Brubeck, written for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, opened the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-20 season on Saturday at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Guest conductor Sarah Hicks also led a lyrical performance of Brahms Symphony No. 2 and a spicy Kodály work.
Brubeck, son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck and a renowned jazz musician himself, met Laredo, the VSO’s music director, after conducting the VSO in Brubeck’s concerto for guitarist Sharon Isbin in 2016. Laredo, also a renowned violinist, asked the jazz musician to write a work for him and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson.
Brubeck’s 2018 “Pas de Deux: Concerto for Violin, Violincello and Orchestra” proved a most attractive three-movement work that comfortably blends jazz and classical idioms. The 20-minute work was also clearly written with Laredo and Robinson in mind, both for their individual styles – Laredo’s irresistible nuanced intimacy and Robinson’s warm extroverted expressiveness, and their musical marriage.
The opening Allegretto began with Robinson in an extended cello solo, Baroque in flavor, joined by Laredo’s sweet violin, in a more Romantic in style. The orchestra creates a jazzy atmosphere as the two interact lyrically.
The slow movement, Andante ma non troppo, is even more lyrical, a love duet, over the ethereal strings of the orchestra. Robinson’s cello sings expressively while Laredo’s violin responds, entwining her lines. It was beautiful.
The final movement, Allegro con spirit, finds the two in the world of big band, alone and together taking on the jazzy lines. Not long before the end, Robinson takes off in an extravagant solo cadenza, then Laredo responds with his sensitive virtuosity, and all ends with jazzy flair.
Laredo and Robinson delivered the virtuosity as well as musical depth and understanding with their unique flair. Laredo’s approach being more introverted and Robinson’s more extroverted, they played with unusual sensitivity to each other. And they sounded great.
Hicks, who was featured on the VSO’s only commercial recording, “Triple Doubles,” double concertos written for Laredo and Robinson, brought it all together. The orchestra was in fine fettle, delivering the broad palette of colors and jazzy rhythms that made “Pas de Deux” sing.
The major work on the program was Johannes Brahms’ 1877 Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73, a grand Romantic work. Although Saturday’s performance felt a bit muted, Hicks and the VSO delivered a very lyrical performance of the opening Allegro non troppo; the slow Adagio non troppo enjoyed warm passion; light lyricism marked the scherzo, Allegretto grazioso; and the work closed with the driving passion of the final Allegro con spirito.
The program opened with Zoltán Kodály’s spicy 1933 “Dances of Galánta,” given a spirited performance that explored the colors and rhythms delightfully.