Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg commands more than her instrument. She commands the stage, making an entrance as if she can barely wait to play and shifting from foot to foot almost nervously during orchestral passages until she can take up the violin and play again.
She was the soloist in Barber's Violin Concerto on Saturday in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium as the Pasadena Symphony under Jorge Mester closed the orchestra's 75th season.
Salerno-Sonnenberg played with intense, vibrant tone, shaping Barber's long, cool lines into little inflected ebbs and flows and curlicues. Her imprint was evident in almost every bar, and that was not necessarily a wonderful thing. Her entrance in the central adagio, for instance, was so whispery that it was almost inaudible from the balcony. But she played the perpetual-motion pyrotechnics of the third and final movement with flair. Leanne Becknell played the oboe solo in the second movement eloquently.
After intermission, Mester led a plain and direct account of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. He had started it with special promise, showing the "fate" motive evolving into and being entangled in the themes that followed rather than being some outside event. But numerous opportunities for supple and subtle phrasing were overlooked. Speed and loudness often substituted for genuine excitement.
Mester opened the program with Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 2, a suave, 10-minute work that gets stuck in a rut and goes on too long, but it was easy to listen to.