Photo by Dario Acosta
With Maestro Kalmar conducting, this was an amazing journey. The orchestra was on fire, suitably sensitive to the incredible range of dynamic contrasts and varying timbres required to make this work a success.
Right from the start, the orchestra exuded a feeling of intense focus, one that drew the listener immediately. There was a peripatetic feel to the movement, with the extended crescendo that built from the lower strings wringing every bit of tension possible. The whispering tremolando from the strings was exciting to hear.
The group handled the emotional displacement to more pastoral themes deftly, and the almost hypnotic shift into a dreamy brass-world was beautifully organic and completely convincing. The orchestra consistently displayed clarity and succinctness in the multiple and vital pianissimos. The more folksy portions were engaging and somewhat disjointed from the weightiness of the overall work--exactly as felt right.
There were many gradual and protracted crescendi throughout the work that ended in a titanic fortissmo, and these the orchestra played well by and large. The only sour spot was in the high woodwinds, flutes and piccolos, that often did not agree on a pitch when the ultimate dynamic was reached, and these moments stood out a number of times.
The vocal portions of the symphony were all spectacular. DeShong displayed a magnificent, show-stopping low alto register, and the Portland State University choirs (PSU Chamber Choir, PSU Man Choir and PSU Vox Vemina) were dignified and solemn, singing with reverence and clear diction. All in all, despite the seriousness of the work, the performers were clearly having fun, and with this composition, how could they not?