Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stellar playing by Gomyo and conducting by Varga highlight Oregon Symphony concert

Copyright © 2012 Karen Gomyo
Violinist Karen Gomyo teamed up with the Oregon Symphony under guest conductor Gilbert Varga to deliver a stellar performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on Saturday evening (April 25) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The program, which included the Second Symphony of Brahms and the Second Symphony of Haydn, proved to be popular choice, because there were few empty seats to be seen anywhere in the hall.

Gomyo is no stranger to Portland. The 33-year-old virtuoso gave thrilling performances with the orchestra in 2010 (Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto) and 2011 (Beethoven’s Violin Concerto). This time around, she created a spellbinding rendition of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. She impeccably articulated notes and phrases even when they flowed at a lickety split pace. She caressed the melodies in the “Andante” (second movement) so that they blossomed with genuine elegance and nobility. Overall, her playing showed passion and revealed insight into this masterpiece, and the orchestra expertly followed Varga’s direction and made sure that Gomyo’s Strad could be heard during the softest and loudest passages.

An eager audience listened to Gomyo with rapt attention. Gomyo drew an incredibly enthusiastic response from the all corners of the hall and by the time she came out on stage for her fourth bow, she decided to do an encore, which was a tango by Ástor Piazzolla, which featured rhythmical challenges with deceptive stutter steps and off-beat accents.

Varga displayed a graceful, poetic conducting style that he used to great advantage during the Brahms. The orchestra sounded very well balanced throughout the piece, and it was terrific to hear various sections come out strongly whenever they had the leading line. The strings maintained a fresh and lovely tone throughout, even when Varga urged them on a breakneck speed. The golden tone of the cello section during the second movement was exceptional, and the woodwinds against the pizzicatos of the cellos in the third movement became one of the highlights of the evening. Except for one brief bobble, John Cox, principal French horn, created panoply of marvelous sounds, as did Martin Hébert, principal oboist. At the conclusion of this work, Varga waded into the orchestra to congratulate and shake the hands of many orchestra members.

The concert began with Haydn’s Symphony No. 2, one of Haydn’s early and short works. A mere ten minutes in length, this work featured the lithe and ultra clean sound of the strings. The second movement with its sinewy phrases was particularly engaging. Varga encouraged the orchestra to play with commitment, and it responded ardently.

Varga impressively conducted the Haydn and Brahms from memory. For the Mendelssohn, he had a reduced score (or a piano version) on his music stand, but he never bothered to open it.

Final note: I didn’t get the name of the guest principal flutist, who did a fine job, but could have played a little louder at times. Some audience members speculated that the orchestra's principal flutist is ill. I don't know anything about that, but I will try to find out.

Post Post Script: Jim Fullan of the OSO stated that the principal flutist was Jeffrey Barker, who is the principal flutist of the Boise Philharmonic.  Fullan also said that Sindell is "out on leave."


Curtis heikkinen said...

Thanks for the review, James. I was not there, so I am glad you provided a review. Boy, the Oregonian is sure hit and miss on reviewing concerts. Looks like another concert they skipped. Good to hear that the audience was substantial, but the program was certainly mainstream. I am detecting a move toward conservative programming both this season and next. I guess I can't fault the orchestra if it means more ticket sales, but I wouldn't mind a five year ban on warhorse concertos like the Mendelssohn.

James Bash said...

Hi Curtis,

Yes, the standards have been a big hit here in P-town. I wish that the audience would be more adventurous, but that is not so. And, as you noted, next year's lineup is not particularly adventurous, which is unfortunate. As for the O, serious arts coverage seems to continue southwards. I have heard that Stabler is retiring at the end of this week.