The Oregon Symphony brilliantly performed three kinds of concertos on Sunday night in a concert that gradually expanded in scale from small to very large. Music conductor Carlos Kalmar led the orchestra with Stravinsky's Concerto in D major for String Orchestra, Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, and Brahms' Second Piano Concerto with the dynamic British pianist Stephen Hough. Although the Brahms can take your breath away with it's size, scope, power, beauty, and 50 more adjectives, the orchestra played each piece at a very high level and made this concert was one of the best this season.
The program began with a tribute from the cello section to the great cellist Rostropovitch, who died last week. The cellos played a Bach piece, which I assume was a transcription. The music was noble and graceful and a wonderful way to acknowledge the life of a major, major artist. I talked with one of the violinists after the concert, and he said that this piece came as a complete surprise, because it wasn't mentioned in the rehearsals. I like this kind of touch because it adds a genuineness to the concert.
Stravinsky's Concerto for String Orchestra evoked the atmosphere of a conversation between different sections of the strings. While one group had the talking stick the other sections would grumble. I heard a lot of elegant phrasing - especially when the sound suddenly dissipated. One of the movements ended with the basses alone playing a softly in their upper register. That was a magical moment that seemed un-Stravinsky like.
The orchestra wonderfully performed Lutoslowski's Concerto for Orchestra. This piece is on the orchestra's first recording, Bravura, which was released in 1987, but the last time it was on a classical music program here was 1995.
I liked the underlying tension of the piece with its myriad of angular and agitated sounds that are driven by a constantly changing meter. The waves of tone clusters were marvelous. The passacaglia in the final movement was striking, beginning with the basses and moving through other sections of the orchestra. (Sometimes I want to disconnect the air conditioning system in the Schnitz when things get real quiet, because it's too loud.) Guest concertmaster Madeline Adkins put a fluid touch on her solo passages that seemed perfect.
The concert ended with Stephen Hough and the orchestra delivering a tremendous performance of Brahms' Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major for Piano and Orchestra. The performance was awesome! Hough created a powerful, exciting, and precise statement in the opening movement. The second movement was equally thrilling, and it always amazes me when an artist like Hough can slow down in the middle of a complicated passage and then speed up again and do this in a natural, unaffected manner. The dreamy and tender third movement was another highlight as principal cellist Nancy Ives warmly introduced the main theme. The fourth movement ended the concert with hopeful, triumphant music that elicited an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the audience.