The Wilds of Europe North State Symphony, Shasta Learning Center, Sat., May 15 & Laxson, Sun., May 16.

If the North State Symphony wanted an exemplary recording of a couple of less well know but splendid pieces of music, they could do worse than this past weekend’s concert: Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto (from either the Redding or the Chico performance), Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony (Redding), and Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture (Chico). Difficult works—exceptionally well played.

Under Assistant Conductor Eric Norden, the Coriolan, with its strong opening chords and lovely central theme, was precise, clean and particularly well served by the horns and delicate cello accompaniment—for starters.

The Bartok Concerto, brilliantly played by Chico faculty pianist John Milbauer, was the audience hit. Described by Milbauer himself as the “least jagged” of Bartok’s three piano concertos, it moved from a rhythmic first movement filled with nature/bird sounds to an absolutely beautiful, pensive second movement in which the soloist, as if in solitary space created by quivering strings, seems to ruminate—perhaps on death (Bartok was dying as he wrote)—before concluding with an excitingly rapid final movement.

Those who left both concerts before the concluding symphony were mistaken. Although described in the program as “pure music,” the Fifth Symphony is nothing so simple. No composer captures the mental and physical geography of his homeland better than Sibelius. And it was all there—the tough, rocky, deep-down inner strength that helped the Finns stop the million Soviet soldiers thrown at them during the 1940-41 Winter War, the sparkles of northern-light color Sibelius’ friend Axel Gallen-Kalela captured in his paintings, the deep humor and beauty—all celebrated in a growing, layered, ultimately affirmative (and moving) celebration superbly played.