Sunday, November 1, 2009

Oregon Symphony collaborates with two guests and finds Ravel a gem

The Oregon Symphony made music with two guest artists on Saturday evening (October 31st) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The ensemble was led by Claus Peter Flor, a German conductor who is the music director of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and is well-known for his work with the Dallas Symphony over the past decade. Guest violinist Stefan Jackiw, a 29-year-old American virtuoso also made his debut with the orchestra, which played works by Ravel, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was the big number on the program, and Flor led the orchestra with an uptempo approach that never looked back. The piece was punctuated with sharp attacks and a robust sound from the horn section. The violins nicely leaned into the phrasing at times and the bass violins showed off some blistering fast fingerwork in the third movement. Even in the slower sections of the piece, Flor didn’t ask the orchestra to linger over notes very long. Yet there seemed to have been a loss of focus near the end of the piece. The flute trill, for example, sounded wonky, and the exuberant energy of the finale was present but not totally convincing.

Guest violinist, Stefan Jackiw delivered a strong performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4. The way Jackiw held his violin reminded me at times of Midori, showing a remarkable sensitivity to the orchestra’s sound yet giving impression that he was playing for each individual in the audience. Jackiw demonstrated a fine sense of nuance throughout the piece like when he deftly increased the sound of some descending triplets, or spun out a sweet, singing tone. He had cadenza in each of the three movements, but he first was the most flamboyant and may, I think, be one that was developed by Joseph Joachim, the great 19th century Hungarian violinist.

The first piece on the program, Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” absolutely sparkled. Flor used his hands rather than a baton to coax a soft, nimble, and poignant sound from the orchestra. Amidst the lush chords and enchanting atmosphere was a superb performance by principal oboist Martin Hebert. Hebert seemed to effortlessly create sounds that ranged from fluttering and playful to ruminating and mild. The overall effect was gemlike.

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