Outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday (February 9), it was winter coat weather with temperatures below freezing, but inside things were toasty warm because of the fiery, incisive playing of violin soloist Simone Lamsma and the Oregon Symphony. It was the 34-year-old Dutch virtuoso’s fourth appearance with the orchestra, and this time around she delivered a searing performance of Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto.
Lamsma plumbed the extroverted and introverted contours of the piece with an intense fierceness. During the numerous lightning-fast passages, notes brilliantly took flight from her Strad, and she held nothing back form the rhapsodic, bravura sections. She also expressed the slower, melancholic sections with an equal amount of intensity, bringing out the somber colors that suggested a lament that my have drawn of the composer’s Armenian heritage.
The orchestra supported Lamsma expertly. Principal clarinetist matched her voice marvelously when he echoed a brief melodic line that led to her cadenza in the first movement. The same sensitivity was given by the bassoons and cellos and later. The folksy and dance-like rhythm of the last movement was playful between the orchestra and soloist, but it went by at a good clip, and Lamsma notched it up at one point into fifth or sixth gear before the piece ended.
The appreciative audience called Lamsma back to center stage three times, and she graciously responded with an encore. Instead of choosing a gentle and relaxing number, she tore into a wickedly difficult Finale from Hindemith’s sonata for solo violin. That brought down the house one more time.
The two outer pieces of the evening’s program provided a delightful contrast. The concert opened with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, which the orchestra took at a blitzing pace. Urged on by Kalmar, the musicians showed off their agility straight away, pouncing on the first movement with alacrity. The serene second movement featured outstanding contributions by principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood. The third had a slightly strident opening, but finished quietly, and the fourth was super crisp, showing off the fleet fingerwork of the strings.
The concert closed out with a terrific performance of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. The sound of the orchestra was well-balanced throughout the piece. For example, the trombones’ entry near the beginning was soft yet just loud enough to be heard. The violins raced up and down with élan. The woodwinds created bird like sounds that put listeners in the midst of a forest. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak dished out a lyrically sweet melody during her solo. Clarinetists Shields and Marc Dubec offerred an amazingly blended sound. The French horns were polished an grand, and the final trumpet call by principal Jeffrey Work wonderfully announced the noble theme that makes this symphonic work one of the best ever.
The only oddity of the program was that Kalmar didn’t do any introductory remark. Over the years, Kalmar has gotten very adept at expressing some well-chosen ideas to the audience with just a few words about each piece on the program. I am thinking that this was just an aberration, and that we will hear him again in the near future.