Chamber music concerts and recitals are perfect ways in which the Oregon Symphony can reach out to neighborhoods in Portland (and beyond) to connect with people and develop a new audiences. On the the Saturday evening before Easter, Charles Noble, assistant principal violist with the Oregon Symphony, teamed up with several of his colleagues from the orchestra to perform an outstanding concert at the Community Music Center in SE Portland. The concert had an informal flair about it. It was fun. It was just the right thing for Portland, and it's something that should be done more often.
First of all, Noble and his colleagues didn't wear formal garb. You could say that the performers were dressed in business casual attire, and that was refreshing.
Secondly, Noble told us a little about each piece before it was played. He used a friendly tone and manner to convey information that helped us to digest the music.
Thirdly, the concert was a fund raiser for the Community Music Center, which needs all of the help that it can get, since its funding is being cut off by Portland Parks and Recreation. So, the concert was (excuse the pun) a noble event.
To the music making:
Noble opened the concert with Henri Vieuxtemps' Capriccio, a short, solo for viola that seemed to serve a nice warm up for both Noble and the audience. The music had a soothing melody in the higher register that was balanced by a slightly sad part in the lower register. I was hoping that something more capricious would jump out, but it never did. Still, the piece was engaging and beautiful.
Next came Beethoven's Serenade for flute, violin, and viola. Here, Noble was joined by violinist Shin-young Kwon and flutist David Buck for a delightful voyage down the river of a very tricky five movement piece. Buck, the principal flutist of the OSO, seemed to have an extra reserve of oxygen hidden somewhere in his lungs as he negotiated every passage (many of which were devilishly fast) with incredible artistry. The beauty of the sound that he gets out of a metal tube with holes in it is wonderful, charming, and a pure delight. Kwon, who is a member of the violin section of the OSO, played stunningly. Noble also performed superbly. Remarkably, the sound from the three was very well balanced, too.
After intermission, Noble returned with oboist Karen Wagner and pianist Cary Lewis to play Two Rhapsodies by Charles Martin Loeffler. The first rhapsody appealed to me because of its wistful, lovely, far away quality that broke into a sort of free association and then reassembled itself with the oboe and viola playing together with punctuation by the piano. The second rhapsody seemed more disjointed, and my ears and my mind just didn't adjust. However, Wagner (who also plays with the OSO) executed a flawless two octave jump (or maybe more than that) in this piece. Lewis and Noble played well throughout.
The last selection was Vieuxtemps' Elegie for viola and piano. Noble clearly knows this piece well because he could play some of it with his eyes nearly closed. He seemed to assert more of his personality with the viola in this piece and with Lewis at the piano, the music made an elegant finale for the concert.
I'd like to add that the acoustics at the CMC tend to be very lively, and Lewis did an excellent job at controlling the volume at the piano. Otherwise, he would easily drown out everyone else. Finally, the turn-out was great, nearly every chair was occupied. I noticed many members of the Oregon Symphony in the hall, including conductor Gregory Vajda, Nancy Ives, Johnathan Dubay, and Joel Belgique.