Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dvorak's New World Symphony is fresh and new in the hands of the Oregon Symphony

Yefim Bronfman
Monday evening at the Schnitz saw the Oregon Symphony perform Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Dvorak's famous 'New World' Symphony, as well as a Beethoven concerto and a striking new work by Sebastian Currier.

Called Microsymph, an accurate title, Currier's work consisted of five short movements for a total of about 12 minutes. Short, expressive and engrossing, here is a sample of the impressions each movement left behind:

quickchange: Hectic, repercussive, tumltuous, like busy traffic that suddenly detoured into a mystic silent alleyway. minute waltz: Chuffing 'cuckoo, cuckoo,' discordant yet sweet horns. adagio: Elegiac, hypnotic--the ability--nay, necessity-- of drawing in the listeners' imagination in the shortest possible time was on display. nanoscherzo: Tootling, mechanical, tock-ticking. kaleidoscope: Brass squawking, imploring, cajoling, sighing unison chonking, secret whispering between sections. This piece was imaginative and bold, and the OSO handled it like champs.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman joined for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. in G Major. This much more quiet, subdued work seemed to be right in Bronfman's wheelhouse. The orchestral opening was suitably grandiose yet not overblown, and Bronfman's brilliant runs of thirds were shining and crisp at the outset. The delicacy of his touch was almost surprising--nothing was ever overstated. The orchestra succeeded at the incredibly difficult task of allowing the gentility of the pianist's touch to yet shine through the orchestral texture. Kalmar's sense of balance was superb, and the orchestra followed. The numerous trills needed to be kept fresh and varied in the latter movements, and Bronfman again did not disappoint, going on further to display an entirely different timbre for each individual voice within contrapuntal sections to a truly marvelous effect. This concerto, so different from some of Beethoven's more iconic works, was fresh and lively in Bronfman's hands.

The second half consisted of Dvorak's iconic symphony, labeled 'From the New World.'  The genesis of what might be thought of as an 'American' sound for classical music, the OSO did not shy away from the bold statements to be found herein. The grandiose opening theme built in the brass until it was like towering thunderheads piling up over a far landscape. The strings sang a prairie lullaby with tenderness and rusticity, tossed gently between the strings and solo flute.  In the second movement the woodwind choir played the tender theme with such warmth and care that it enfolded the listener in a womb of calm and repose. The explosive exposition of the fourth movement featured controlled power from the brass--pushing the absolute limit without going over the edge. The delicate tremolando from the violins, the saltando theme when violas were the only strings playing, the powerful, sawing theme from the low strings--all were executed to perfection.

The transportative nature of the music at this concert lay not in the compositions alone, but in the interpretation--superb execution by elite players is required to complete the effect. Kalmar's reading was as expansive and wide-ranging as the music required to bring its meaning to fruition. This is what the OSO can deliver when they are at their best--and Monday night they were indeed.

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