By Lawrence Budmen

Sergei Prokofiev’ s Violin Concerto in D Major is a tour de force that only the most extraordinarily gifted players dare attempt. On Saturday Leila Josefowicz set the Lincoln Theater stage ablaze with a performance of incendiary energy and thrust, the centerpiece of a riveting New World Symphony concert. 

Prokofiev’s concerto alternates between strophes of lyrical stasis and pyrotechnical gymnastics that make Paganini’s works seem tame by comparison. The mercurial Josefowicz encompassed both extremes with impeccable technique and fearless abandon. 

She cast a hypnotic spell with the soft opening solo lines, thinning down her tone to the slenderest of threads, and attacked the Scherzo with devilish verve. She was not afraid to make sounds that were less than beautiful, letting sparks fly in the fast paced diaologue between violin and woodwinds. Josefowicz dispatched the double and triple stops with gleeful mastery. 

Over gossamer harp glissandos Josefowicz spun the concluding Moderato into a rhapsodic reverie of searing emotional power. Her gleaming tone and forceful expressive intensity served the concerto’s jazzy bravado and refined introspection in equal measure. Josefowicz has made a graceful transition from child prodigy to artist of the highest order.

Guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth was a fluent, idiomatic collaborator. Every harmonic progression and instrumental detail was precisely weighted. The British born conductor’ s lean clarity made Prokofiev’s orchestral colors glow with transparent sheen. 

Wigglesworth’s exceptionally lucid reading of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 in B minor (Pathetique) was generously expressive and super heated. This was not a Tchaikovsky performance for the meek of heart.

The voluptuous lyricism of the second movement waltz had a sinister glow, not unlike the valse movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; the excellent cello section produced deeply burnished tone that glistened amidst the full ensemble.

Wigglesworth served up the third movement march with unhinged fire, shaping a relentless crescendo that swept all before it. The conductor vividly conveyed the agony of the concluding Adagio lamentoso with emotional passion of uninhibited, nightmarish fervor.

The New World’s muscular strings, brightly articulate winds, and crackling brass and percussion had a field day in Tchaikovsky’s darkly emotive swan song.

Conducting fellow Steven Jarvi opened the program with a rendition of Berlioz’s Overture to Beatrice and Benedict that astutely captured the wit, insouciance, and classical purity of this Mozartean soufflé. With glistening strings and powerhouse brasses in razor sharp form, Berlioz’s comedia had the bubbly élan of sparkling champagne. 

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