Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oregon Symphony Delivers Marine Sound Feast Centered around Debussy's La Mer

Fingal's Cave
Thomas Moran, 1884 oil on canvas
Saturday the 22nd at the Schnitz the Oregon Symphony played a concert that was largely marine in theme, with works by Mendelssohn, Debussy, and an American premier by Toshio Hosokawa. The lone exception was the Violin Concerto by Benjamin Britten, featuring soloist Simone Lamsma and directed by the excellent Jun Markl.

The opening work was Mendelssohn's The Hebrides (Fingal's Cave).The famous see-sawing, sighing opening theme immediately giving the evening a nautical footing, and the orchestra transitioned nicely to the stormy motive and back again, conveying a sense of disquiet, and a restless sea.

Simone Lamsma returned to the stage for OSO for the first time since her smashing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto last year. She plays strongly, insistent yet not without delicacy. She clearly has something to say, and makes that plain from the start. Her technique is spectacular and wide-ranging: a fierce chordal spiccato, intensive sawing in the low range yielding to nimble, dance-like moments further up. The many tragical moments of the work were not yet drowned in sorrow--her instrument sang with a voice that could not be repressed, nor yet weighted down by sadness. Other sections demanded a fierce, saucy pizzicato, reveling in two-note dissonances.

In the Vivace there were terrifying glissandi, and she handed off the haunting harmonic passages seamlessly to the piccoli, a difficult transition with a memorable effect. The cadenza was completely mesmerizing, including a difficult trick of bowing some strings while simultaneously plucking others with the left hand. The fantastically difficult chromatic runs of the finale she handled with ease, yielding to a meditative exhalation. Truly a spectacular performance.

The second half opened with the American premier of Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa's Circulating Ocean, a programmatic piece also meant to suggest the cycle of human life from nothingess, to existence, then a return to non-existence. De niente, winds began to sound from an aspirated alto flute and other winds as gentle tinkling from tiny Japanese wind bells broke through the breathy atmosphere. A very evocative feeling of crawling mist grew, with the brass gurgling up, muffled as if from a great depth. Surrounding all was a ceaseless susurration from the strings.

This was a fantastically imaginative work early on for percussion: tam tams and bowed celesta, Japanese temple bowls and the wind bells and an antique cymbal featured among the instruments.  There was next to nothing by way of true melody early on: snatches here and there from celesta but later there were bits of half-themes and short motives from flute, bassoon and strings. It was really more of a great sound-picture, a reflection on impermanence. This was a work of stunning imagination, and this surely will not be the last time it is heard in the U.S.

Debussy's great symphonic work La Mer closed out the evening. The intro and moments later in the third felt almost rusty--what should at times have been mellifluous instead came off as stilted. All the pieces were there, just not perfectly fit together.  The second movement, the Jeu de vagues, really pulled together well. Much more effortless; the stunning, giant crescendo and fortissimo arrival was incredibly evocative and breathtaking.   The movement continued frenetic and moody, with wonderful work from strings--violins appropriately sentimental at times, and with grandiose yet subdued work from the cellos.

The entire evening was really incredible stuff--there was some fantastic noise being made that night, in the best sense of the term. This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

No comments: