Friday, April 29, 2016

Oregon Symphony's Russian program satisfies...ultimately.

Simone Lamsma
The Oregon Symphony played the final night of a Russian-heavy program at the Schnitz Monday evening, featuring Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 in F minor  and Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, featuring Dutch player Simone Lamsma as soloist.

The folks who were parking during the "parking overture" didn't miss much, unfortunately. Danish composer Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture was flat from the start, literally and emotionally. A sour start and continued pitch issues from the horns muddied what should have been a quivering, bracing opening, and the orchestra followed suit with an underwhelming delivery. Surprising, frankly, because this is the sort of thing at which the OSO usually excels.

Immediately following was the Shostakovich. This piece felt like it took a minute or two to get going, but because of its length it could afford an unfortunate if understandable 'warm-up' phase. With so many rapid-fire entrances and exits from so many sections, the orchestra had to be right on cue--constant attention to the conductor was key. They achieved this, and there were tasty treats from many sections and players, including second chair first violin...a solo executed with just the right blend of gusto and restraint.  The second movement featured brilliant switching between the principal themes as they were bandied about between the sections.

The opening of the Lento third movement featured an oboe solo floating gently like a bird soaring over a hushed sea of strings--lush and full bodied, the strings perfectly captured the mysterious spirit of the movement. The final movement closed in raging moments of brutal exclamations from the brass and percussion. Such rapidly and radically shifting moods throughout the piece required a steady and able hand, and resident conductor Paul Ghun Kim ably guided them through the treacherous course.

The second half consisted of the violin concerto, and Lamsma had the audience hooked right from the start. She opened with a fine, broad cantabile, featuring a rich lower range. Her technical brilliance was unmistakable from the start--she executed difficult chordal and scalar passages with exciting thoroughness and clarity. Her lengthy, spritely cadenza was intensely interesting, featuring daring harmonics and glissandi.

During the Finale: Allegro vivacissimo she played with a rapidfire saltando that seemed at times to throw down a friendly challenge to the orchestra: just try and keep up! My tongue is planted firmly in cheek when I say she was having far to much fun for a soloist in such a serious work.

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