Wednesday, March 9, 2016

PYP excels with rediscovered Marion Bauer work, Vaughan Williams oboe concerto, and Rachmaninoff’s Third

The Portland Youth Philharmonic scored major points last Saturday (March 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall by playing Marion Bauer’s “Sun Splendor,” a short, one-movement work that was last heard in 1947 when the New York Philharmonic performed it under Leopold Stokowski. Bauer, who was born in Walla Walla, lived in Portland for a decade or so before moving to New York and studying music for a while in Europe. She wrote “Sun Splendor” for piano in 1926 and orchestrated it during the 1940s. It would have been interesting if Bauer’s piece had sparked other performances, but “Sun Splendor” quickly faded quickly into obscurity. So, it was a stroke of luck that PYP’s music director David Hattner heard it and decided to program it on the orchestra’s Winter Concert, which also featured the Concerto for Oboe and Strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3.

Guided by Hattner, the PYP demonstrated an impressive dynamic range in its performance of “Sun Splendor,” creating exquisitely hushed moments that contrasted sharply with the bombastically loud ones. The piece had the quality of a tone poem in which one could easily imagine a storm followed by drifting clouds that were pierced and burnt off by the sun. Near the end of the piece, very high notes from the violins and rousing volleys from the trumpets were followed by massive chords that beamed an emphatically positive statement. Overall, the piece had enough fine qualities to make me wonder if the PYP will venture to play her one and only symphony. Hmm...

Following the Bauer opener, Anna Larson, the winner of the orchestra’s annual concerto competition, gave an outstanding performance of Vaughan Williams’s Concerto for Oboe and Strings. Larson, an 18-year-old senior at Sam Barlow High School, mastered the fluid lines of this piece with a secure and warm tone, supported with great sensitivity by the string chamber ensemble . Her beguiling languid phrases created an atmosphere of gentle, rolling hills as if she were trekking through England’s pastoral countryside. The fast passages had a light and nimble flair, and she topped everything off with an exclamatory high note at the end. The parade of bouquets that she received was well deserved.

After intermission, all of the forces of the PYP returned to the stage to deliver a vivid interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony. Excelling with dynamic contrasts and evocative sonic textures, the orchestra delved into the music with an emotive and polished performance. Lush strings that could turn edgy with the flick of Hattner’s baton, brilliant brass, plaintive woodwinds, and a sharp percussion battery contributed impressively. The contrapuntal passage in the third movement was superbly executed, and made me wish that Rachmaninoff had extended it further. Outstanding playing by the principals in their solos included concertmaster Fumika Mizuno, cellist Richard Lu, flutist Annabel MacDonald, oboist Courtney Stump, clarinetist Talia Dugan, bassoonist Rose Rogers, hornist Elise Morgan, harpist Siena Mirasol, and keyboardist Raley Schweinfurth at the celeste. Clayton Wahlstrom (bass clarinet) and Emma Barbee (English horn) plus the trumpets were spot on.

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