Sunday, April 5, 2009
Lintu, Gutiérrez, and Oregon Symphony deliver terrific concert of music by Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Lindberg, and Ravel
Guest conductor Hannu Lintu and the Oregon Symphony presented an interesting concert that featured works by Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Lindberg, and Ravel on Saturday evening at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This appearance by Lintu marked the fourth time he has led the orchestra, and he again seemed to strike a harmonious chord with the orchestra. All in all, this program has something for everyone, and the audience responded to each piece enthusiastically.
The concert began with Mozart’s Symphony No 36 in C major, which is known as the Linz Symphony, because he composed this work while staying near that Austrian city. He wrote the entire work in five days between October 30th and November 4th, 1783 at the ripe age of 27, and it’s a work a pure beauty.
All of the strings, but especially the violins, played with a lot of precision and polish in this work. Led by concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, the entire ensemble conveyed lots of dynamic contrasts and made the music glow. Lintu used some unorthodox conducting techniques – like crossing both hands on the beat – to add his own stylistic stamp to the performance. All in all, this was a top-notch performance of Mozart and a pleasure to hear from beginning to end.
Guest pianist Horacio Gutiérrez collaborated with the orchestra to sweep the audience of its feet with a very fleet performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” It seemed to me that Gutiérrez rushed things a bit here and there and sacrificed some of the emotion of the piece for the sake of speed. But with some terrific assistance from the orchestra, the piece sparkled and the audience responded with a big burst of applause after the final variation concluded with a twinkle.
Before playing Magnus Linberg’s “Feria,” Lintu said a few words about the composition, which was composed in 1997. He explained that this piece doesn’t have any stated movements, but can be understood as having five sections. The first section serves as an introduction to the piece, the second shows off some of the string players before the rest of the orchestra joins in, the third section has big slow chords, and a trumpet solo – which quotes Monteverdi – occurs before the fourth section, which is a concerto grosso. In the fifth section everyone in the orchestra plays at full tilt and “we’ll see which part of the orchestra wins.”
I liked the bright and quick sounds from the trumpets and brass section at the beginning of the piece. This musical urgency was matched at times by furious playing from other sections of the orchestra, and I recall that the violins ignited some of the festivities. After a lot of sonic business, things gradually calmed down, and that exposed some very closely threaded tones in the brass section. I like the way that principal trombonist Aaron LaVere used a mute to make a brief wail that punctuated that passage. I recall a wild solo for concertmaster Iwasaki, fluttering woodwinds, and piano notes that randomly seemed to be sprinkled on top of it all. Everything seemed to end in a loud conflagration of sound that perhaps signaled an end to the festival (“feria”).
Before motioning for the entire orchestra to stand, Lintu directed applause to pianist Carol Rich, and that became one of the first time that I’ve ever seen a conductor recognize the orchestra’s pianist for special commendation. I think that Rich turned several shades of red, and that made the evening that much more special.
The concert concluded with Ravel’s “Bolero.” I haven’t heard this piece played in a concert for many years; so it was very refreshing to hear the orchestra and Lintu perform it. Lintu used very small hand gestures without a baton to shape the first section, and then gradually built the rest of the piece with larger gestures and finally he reached for his baton to signal the big, splashing ending. I loved the way that the orchestra played this work. There were so many finely-wrought solos by many members that the list of names would be rather long. Suffice it to say that members of the woodwinds and the brass really stood out, and LaVere once again was terrific on the trombone. Thunderous applause and a standing ovation greeted the players at the glorious finale, and everyone left the concert hall in a happy mood.