Saturday, February 28, 2015

Violinist Jackiw thrills with performances of Lutoslawski and Dvořák

Stefan Jackiw
Stefan Jackiw has become one of my favorite violinists. He always plays with high energy and intelligence and is acutely attuned to the orchestra. I heard him give an immaculate and incredibly fast interpretation of Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto at the Grant Park Orchestra in June when his fingers outraced an impending thunderstorm. This past weekend, Jackiw was in town to perform with the Oregon Symphony, which marked his third engagement with the orchestra (previous appearances were in 2009 and 2012). I heard him on Monday evening (February 23) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in a program in which he played Witold Lutoslawski’s “Partita for Violin and Orchestra” and Antonin Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor for Violin and Orchestra.” Jackiw delivered two superb performances of these wonderfully contrasting pieces, collaborating seamlessly with the orchestra under guest conductor Christoph König.

As Jackiw mentioned to the audience in a brief introductory statement, Lutoslawski’s “Partita” is a five movement work with two movements (both titled Ad libitum) that contain aleatory or chance music. For those movements, he explained that he would be playing in a tempo that was in his head and that orchestra and piano (which has a prominent part) would play in another. I have to admit that by the time the ad lib movements arrived, I forgot all about the chance aspect but mesmerized by how the music moved between a pensive quality and a freed up feeling. Jackiw created some very quick passages that pianist Carol Rich seemed to echo at times. In another section, Jackiw marvelously played tones that seemed almost hollow, and later he commanded a dizzy array of notes that gave the piece a mercurial sense.

After finishing Lutoslawski’s edgy “Partita,” Jackiw returned to the stage to perform Dvořák’s “Romance in F minor,” which he played with such grace and understanding that it became a sublime experience. Throughout the piece, he consistently projected a beguiling sound above the orchestra. That demonstrated that his musicality includes listening to the orchestra and gauging the dynamics correctly (which is not always an easy thing in the Schnitz). The audience loved it all with applause that called him back to the stage several times.

The concert began with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s supremely moody “Isle of the Dead. After a plaintive call from the French horn (John Cox), the lower strings and harp (Jennifer Craig) established a shroud of fog and the orchestra painted the picture of a boat moving deliberately across a still lake. Highlights from the orchestra included lovely solos by flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulson, a swelling brass passage, an expansive melody from the violins, a terrific gnawing passage from the violas, a silky solo by concertmaster Sarah Kwak, a beautiful, fading phrase from clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, and a sense of subsiding waves from the cellos and basses.

The concert ended with a lively and energetic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. König led the orchestra with a brisk pace, and that gave the piece a fresh and alive feeling. Kudos to oboist Karen Wagner, flutist DiDonato Paulson, bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, and hornist Joseph Berger for their outstanding solos. König used a combination of sweeping and almost dance-like motions and sharper, decisive gestures. I think that the performance took only 25 or so minutes, and even at that blitzing pace, Beethoven's Fifth still packs a solid knockout punch.

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