Monday, November 19, 2007

Columbia Symphony performs Mozart and Elgar

I enjoyed seeing the large audience at Columbia Symphony's second concert of the season on Friday evening at First United Methodist Church. In particular, Portland's Asian community (including a lot of kids) made up a hefty portion of an audience that appeared to be well over 500. The strong Asian turnout was due to Mighten Yip, a teenager who is consider one of the best young pianists in the Pacific Northwest. Yip played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9. in the first half of the program. Elgar's Symphony No. 1 filled the second half.

Playing from memory, the 14-year-old Yip gave an technically accurate performance of the piano concerto that Mozart wrote in 1777 at the ripe age of 21. Yip kept the phrasing elegant throughout the concerto and he was especially graceful in his transitions to softer and lighter passages, but he needed some more flair to make the piece more exciting. Everything was in the medium to very soft range. More variation in loudness and tempi would have helped a lot.

The orchestra supported Yip very well and were careful not to overwhelm him. There seemed to be some intonation problems in the first and second movements, but they were minor. It was impressive to watch this young fellow play the entire concerto, and it will be interesting to see how his career develops. Since Yip has taken master classes from Benedetto Lupo, Paul Roberts, and other outstanding pianists, we will be hearing him again.

The audience thinned out a little bit after intermission, but I was impressed that the vast majority stayed to hear the rarely performed symphony by Elgar. I liked the stately beginning (the "nobilmente" theme), which made me imagine walking and surveying the English country-side and making a grand gesture now and then in a regal sort of way. The orchestra displayed some terrific swells in volume that were impressive. I also enjoyed several excellent, sudden diminuendos from the orchestra in general in the first movement as well as a lyrical lightness in the violins during the second theme of the first movement.

The contrast between brusque, agitated marches contrasted well with more lyrical themes throughout the piece. The principal clarinetist Carolyn Arnquist had many fine moments, and the brass shone with a very polished tone. Concertmster Dawn Carter also put a lot of expression into several brief solos. Huw Edwards directed the work from memory, and the orchestra made sure that the crescendos near the finale crashed mightily like waves against a rocky cliff. The piece concluded with a demonstrative slap, and the audience reacted with enthusiasm.

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