Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jeffrey Kahane and Oregon Symphony create sublime Beethoven in concert full of diversity

Jeffrey Kahane
Whenever pianist Jeffrey Kahane stops in town, it’s a real treat, and his latest performance over the weekend with the Oregon Symphony was a case in point. Together, their artistry raised the bar with a sublime performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Sunday (September 29). But that performance was just one high point of many in a program that offered a lot of variety with symphonic works by Béla Bartók, Franz Joseph Haydn, and Johann Strauss Jr. – all of which the orchestra, guided by music director Carlos Kalmar, played outstandingly.

Kahane is a consummate artist who can performances sound personal and intimate, even when he is playing for 2,000 people. With Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, he made phrases sound stately, fiery, serene, lilting, tender, and sparkle without using a flashy technique. Even when he performed the long cadenza in the first movement, Kahane, who is known for his ability to improvise and may have thrown in some of his own inventions, doesn’t draw attention to himself. The orchestra expertly supported him throughout the piece with finely honed dynamics. The thunderous applause from the audience brought Kahane back to the stage for several bows, and he responded with an encore, Mendelssohn’s “Song without Words.”

Bartók’s “Dance Suite” reflected a huge variety of intriguing sounds and mood that drew on Arabic, Hungarian, and Romanian folk music. It all started with an edgy ominous bassoon duet (Carin Miller Packwood and Evan Kuhlmann) that was picked up by pulsating and sliding tones from the trombones (Aaron LaVere and Robert Taylor), and then transferred to passages that were highlighted by enigmatic high sounds from the clarinet (Yoshinori Nakao). This somehow changed to passages that were rustic and later a splayed, open sound. The third movement (“Tranquilo”) featured lush strings and underscored by a woodwind choir. Some of the movements ended with a little punch of a chord. Hats off to assistant principal clarinetist Todd Kuhns, who deftly switched between different instruments to help create some of the arresting effects of this piece.

The orchestra’s performance of Haydn’s Symphony No 64 (“Tempora mutantur”) was expertly played by a chamber ensemble of 38 musicians and conducted by Kalmar without the baton. The quick first movement featured skipped along delightfully with the violins expertly tapering off phrases. The second movement featured several unusual pauses. A highlight of the third included the pair of French horns that sounded like post horns and the oboe duets. The witty fourth movement sprinted along but also briefly slowed down to a stop. The orchestra recorded this performance, for a release on its next CD, which will feature two other Haydn symphonies: No. 53 (“L’imperiale”) and No. 96 (“The Miracle”).

The orchestra then went in a completely different direction with Strauss’s “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” sounding as if the musicians had grown up in Vienna. Kalmar and company shaped each phrase naturally, including the phrases that have a dollop of hesitation. It all sounded terrifically fresh and off the cuff. They topped it off with “Leichtes blut” (“Light of Heart”), a waltz that featured the terrific piccolo artistry of Zachariah Galatis, who nailed a series of upward sweeping phrases with aplomb. Artistic Administrator Charles Calmer later explained to me that this waltz is “about being light headed from drinking too much—hence the hiccupping piccolo part.” That was a terrific topper for a diverse evening of music. It seems that Kalmar and the orchestra should do an evening of Viennese schmaltz sometime in the near future.

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