|Photo by Fran Kaufman|
What struck me most of all, was how Hamelin could shape the music so that it took us on a journey with a destination. Passages connected naturally to each other and the ebb and flow of the piece built up so that it climaxed with incredible exuberance at the very end. In the hands of a lesser artist, the piece would have sounded exciting but chopped up into one impressive passage after another. Hamelin was able to rhapsodize when needed without sliding into sentimentality. He created a space that invited everyone into Rachmaninoff’s soundscape and that made the performance a life-enhancing experience.
The orchestra, directed by guest conductor Nicholas Carter, played at the top of its game. High notes floated from principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood. The French horns were superb, including the muted yet slightly brassy passage in the first movement. Carter switched to directing without a baton at the beginning of the second movement and that helped to create a super lush sound from the strings. Principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work’s pristine playing was another highlight of the evening.
After the last note of the piece died away, the audience – en mass – leapt to its feet with an ecstatic ovation of cheering, applauding, and whistling that went on and on and on, bringing Hamelin back to the stage at least four times. He responded finally with an encore that he didn’t announce. It sounded like a Gershwin tune that he spun into variations a la Rachmaninoff.
The concert opened with a relatively quiet piece, which was a bit on the subtle side of the scale since curtain raisers typically offer something splashy. The first was the “Waldweben” (“Forest Murmurs”) from Wagner’s “Siegfried” in an arrangement by Wouter Hutschenruyter. I have heard this opera several times, including in Bayreuth last year, and I felt that the Oregon Symphony did an outstanding job of conveying the delicate sensibilities of the music even though it was done outside the context of the opera. The strings established the gentle winds for the forest scene, and the woodwinds excelled at creating the magic with principal flutist Martha Long creating the twittering Forest Bird and principal clarinetist James Shields making a wonderfully penetrating tone that glistened in the forest of sound.
The second piece on the program was Sibelius’s Third Symphony. Its grand opening statement featured strong playing from the strings and wonderful bursting glow from the French horn and brass sections. The musicians created a wonderful landscape of sound, much of which was extremely pianissimo and subtle. The woodwinds expressed the lovely melancholy melody at the beginning of the second movement that was picked up with tenderness by the string. The fleet strings – especially the low strings – created a gorgeous sound throughout. The gradual crescendo at the end of the piece really rounded things out in a glorious way.