Natasha Paremski’s playing of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 took everyone’s breath away at the Oregon Symphony concert on February 10th. She captured the quirky nature of the piece marvelously, bringing a sense of lyricism and whimsy to the rhapsodic passages and fearlessly letting her fingers fly across the rapid portions (such as the second movement), and driving to the finale with room to spare. Paremski demonstrated superb control from beginning to end, bringing out emphatic fortes one moment and then shifting to ultra-soft pianissimos the next. The intoxicating blend of sheer pianism came to a head in the helter skelter fourth movement with its willy-nilly combinations of dynamic twists and turns. The virtuosic candenza in the finale – with its knuckle-crunching sections paired against tender and poignant ones – was brilliantly played by Paremski. To think that she learned the piece in a few months after being asked by Carlos Kalmar, the orchestra’s music director, and then played it so brilliantly from memory is astonishing. The nearly full house at the Arlene Schnizter Concert Hall erupted with applause and cheers.
While Paremski’s memorable performance was tremendously impressive, it was equaled by the orchestra’s scintillating performance of Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 7. Piston won his second Pulitzer Prize (in 1961) with the three-movement work. The orchestra handled the entire piece incisively from its thick and complex opening statement to the powerfully sharp ending with its three decisive blows. The second movement (“Adagio pastorale”) offered lovely solos by principal oboist Martin Hébert and principal flutist Martha Long as well as intriguing pairings with their colleagues in the woodwind section. Lyrical string passages clashed wonderfully against the brass before ending quietly. In the third movement (“Allegro festevole”), the orchestra roared back to life with a section that was like a fast sonic stutter step before gradually building to an emphatic conclusion.
The other large-scale work on program was Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (“Pathétique”), which received an awesome performance from the orchestra. The musicians dug into each passage, each phrase with terrific passion and sensitivity. They explored the depths of despair; they created moments of joy that were tinged with nostalgia; they marched enthusiastically uphill, downhill, and into oblivion; they plumbed every nook and cranny and found a way to make the music exciting and relevant even though probably everyone in the hall had heard the piece a thousand times. It was a mind-melding performance with the orchestra, urged on by Kalmar, delivering all of the goods and then some.
Impeccable playing by all sections of the orchestra contributed to make the performance emotionally fulfilling. Still the French horns played like all stars as did principal timpanist Sergio Carreno. It was mesmerizing to watch the speed and accuracy of mallets as he pummeled the drums.
Overall, this was one of the best concerts of the 2017-2018 season, and many in the audience were left to wonder when Paremski will return and what she will play.