Saturday, October 17, 2009

Columbia Symphony plays Beethoven, Sibelius

On Friday, October 16th at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Portland, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Huw Edwards began their regular season with a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D. Major, Op. 43. The concert was themed 'Awesome Openings' partially in reference to the unique opening moments of each work.

Portland-area pianist Barbara Roberts was the soloist for the Beethoven, which opened the evening. She began the concert beautifully, with a simple, intimate opening for piano alone, an unusual feature for a concerto of the day. Her playing was smooth but the long scale runs were sometimes blurred by a bit of excessive pedalling, leaving one wishing for a more crisp articulation. Edwards did well in keeping the orchestra sounding full, yet not intrusive during the many delicate moments of this work.

During the final Rondo the repartee of orchestra and soloist came off quite well, the tricky syncopations being tossed off between the two sounding vibrant and fresh. After an octave run towards the end where Roberts seemed to lose her place for a moment, she asserted the thunderous pomposity that one often associates with Beethoven into the final cadenza, using the moment as a springboard to achieve a fiery, satisfying final flourish.

The Sibelius opened with a three-note theme that was heard throughout the piece. It felt as though it took a few moments for the full effect of the dynamic contrasts to manifest themselves; for the orchestra to take the pianos as seriously as the raucous fortes. In the second movement the brass choir and percussion were exceptional, very intuitive and responsive to Edwards' direction in what was a challenging section for them. The rich, handome sound that marks the CSO's string section was put to good use in the heavy tremolo used by Sibelius to heighten the tension towards the end of the second movement.

In the finale Edwards and his group wowed the crowd with the revolutionary ostinato theme that built slowly but steadily in a minor key until it exploded in the glorious major sunburst, to shine briefly and then decline once more into the depths. The orchestra was largely sensitive to the many colors called for in this symphonic heavyweight. This concert will reprise Sunday the 18th at 3pm at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

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