The great Finnish composer's symphonies have a way of sounding perfect for a winter concert (and who knows winter quite like a Finn, although we've all been getting some experience lately).
The First Symphony is not as popular as the Second or Fifth, perhaps unjustly, but it is a tautly constructed piece that is full of fine melodies and brilliant orchestral writing.
The local orchestra played it with impressive attention to detail. From principal clarinetist Robert Turizziani's nearly whispered solo at the beginning over a single timpani roll, the opening movement was full of finely shaded detail and powerful contrasts. A rumbling, climbing accompaniment in imitation between cellos and basses was particularly effective.
The slow movement glowed in the languid melody for cellos and violins, especially when it returned braced by pulsing filigrees of melody in the woodwinds at the climax.
The scherzo had a flinty edge to its driving rhythms that flew among timpani, trumpets, trombones and winds.
Cooper conducted the finale's big fantasia appropriately, driving the fast tempos just short enough of frenzy to make the increasingly busy rhythms stand out clearly. The contrasting slower music, which finally wins out at the end, flowed with conviction, warmly shaded but with just a touch of frost.
For those disappointed at not hearing or having a chance to hear Lisitsa -- she enjoys significant popularity in Charleston -- Cooper announced that she has agreed to play both of Brahms' piano concertos with the orchestra in November.
The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center.