To close the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s current season, Robert Moody assembled an all-Norwegian program, inspired by a suggestion from an orchestra patron who wanted to explore his own Norwegian roots and who promised to help underwrite the concert if Moody could pull it together.

That shouldn’t have been difficult: Norwegian composers are not scarce, although if you’re looking for names that even the most casual listener would recognize, your list basically begins and ends with Edvard Grieg. Not surprisingly, Moody chose Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suites as the program’s anchor. The companion works he chose were a recent piece by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian composer living in New York, and Christian Sinding’s popular Suite for Violin and Orchestra, with a Norwegian soloist, Henning Kraggerud, who is also a composer and who supplied movements from his “Equinox” to the proceedings.

Alas, Moody was unable to see the project through. Called away because of an illness in his family, he turned the concert over to Norman Huynh, the orchestra’s assistant conductor. The circumstances notwithstanding, it was a great opportunity for Huynh, who has mostly been conducting pops concerts and children’s shows, and who is leaving Portland in August to take up a more challenging assistantship at the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

Huynh made two amendments to the program: He reversed the order of Grieg’s suites, turning the popular “In the Hall of the Mountain King” into the concert’s finale, and he tucked the Sinding suite between movements of Kraggerud’s “Equinox,” using one of the violinist’s pieces as a preface, of sorts, and then following the Sinding with four more movements (and a fifth, as an encore). The point of that was not obvious; perhaps it was Kraggerud’s choice. But it did the program no violence, and given the conservative cast of Kraggerud’s writing, it worked nicely.

The curtain-raiser, Gjeilo’s “Meridian” (2010) was underwhelming, a good example of an unusual choice not quite working. Moody knew Gjeilo principally as a choral composer, but wanted to program his “Meridian” for wind band, if it could be reconfigured for full orchestra. When Gjeilo said he had too many commissions to revisit a past work, Moody engaged Delvyn Case, whose music the orchestra has performed in Christmas concerts, to rescore the piece.

Case, who grew up in Maine and teaches at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, did a skilled treatment, using the orchestra’s strings to create a warm, expansive texture. But the music itself, while built on an attractive chord progression, is a loose, fanfare-like confection, with clattery snare fills underpinning cheerful brass figures. You waited for it to become something bigger, but it never quite got there, or even hinted at where “there” might be. The performance, too, seemed unfocused and did not make the strongest case for the work.

The three-movement Sinding suite is a glimpse of Baroque style as seen through the sensibility of a late Romantic. It is packed with fleet, arching, richly melodic music for the violin – including a melancholy exploration of its low range, in the central slow movement – supported by lush, fluid orchestration. Kraggerud brought a rich tone and a deft touch to his lines, and an evident unity of purpose drove his collaboration with Huynh.

Kraggerud’s “Equinox,” a set of 24 pieces (one in every major and minor key) is an unabashedly Romantic collection, and not surprisingly, it puts the violin fully in the spotlight. Anyone who believes that music should reflect something of its own time – let me raise my hand, here – would have found its 19th-century language disappointing. Yet there is no denying that the works are beautifully wrought showpieces that demand much of a violinist’s technique and interpretive moxie, and once expectations about style were set aside, they proved thoroughly enjoyable.

Grieg’s incidental music for Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” has always pleased audiences, and in recent decades, conductors have often bypassed the two orchestral suites Grieg assembled, in favor of larger collections from the full score. But the suites are a good distillation of the project and capture the highlights of Grieg’s vivid scene painting.

You could quibble with some of Huynh’s interpretive decisions. He took “Morning Mood,” for example, at a brisk clip that made it difficult for the music to breathe as it must, while other movements sounded oddly restrained. But he also brought an appealing subtlety to the exquisite “Solveig’s Song,” and he played up the coloristic effects in the “Arabian Dance,” “Peer Gynt’s Homeward Journey” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Overall, he had the orchestra sounding warm and robust, and he created a strong parting impression of a young conductor with clear ability and a strong interpretive will, but also with considerable growth ahead of him.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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