Friday, September 29, 2017

Brilliant playing by Hadelich and Oregon Symphony opens the season

The first concert of the Oregon’s Symphony’s classical music series opened with an immaculate performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Grammy-award winner Augustin Hadelich as soloist. Attendance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was pretty solid, even for the Monday night concert that I attended (September 25). Portlanders have taken a liking to Hadelich, who has appeared with the orchestra twice before and also with Chamber Music Northwest. The program included a finely tuned performance of Morton Gould’s “Stringmusic” and a fiery finish with Mily Balakirev’s “Islamey.”

Hadelich’s impeccable technique made the Beethoven look easy peasy. His intonation was amazingly spot-on throughout the piece and his playing of the Kreisler sounded wonderfully refined yet heroic. The last movement seemed to fly by too quickly so that the warmth was gone. However, he brilliantly tossed off another finger-bending, wicked cadenza with mind-boggling ease and that gave the finale some extra zip. The audience erupted with applause that brought Hadelich back to the stage several times. He obliged the audience with an elegant encore, Paganini’s “Caprice No. 21,” handling its devilish combination of double stops and fast up-bow staccatos with tremendous expression and sensitivity.

The concert concluded with two pieces that the orchestra had never played before. The first, “Stringmusic,” which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Gould, featured five movements that received a taut and highly nuanced ensemble sound under the direction of Carlos Kalmar. In the “Prelude” movement, the violas echoed a lovely and somber statement from the cellos. The violins followed with a delicate, high wire act and the double-basses created gentle throbbing tones. The “Tango” began with a zing and zip before ending with a humorous stutter and lurch. Principal bassist Colin Corner played an elegant solo during the solemn “Dirge.” Part of the “Ballad” had a lightly rocking and slightly elegiac feel, which contrasted well with the lively barnyard dance in “Strum.”

The full-sized version of the orchestra filled the stage to play Alfredo Casella’s arrangement of Balakirev’s “Islamey.” Urged on by Kalmar, the musicians conjured a swirling, exotic vision. Excellent solos by concertmaster Sarah Kwak, principal cellist Nancy Ives, principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, and English hornist Kyle Mustain accented the piece wonderfully. The speed of playing in the finale went faster and faster as if rolling down a steep hill and the last chord was glorious.

Additional note: “Stringmusic” was recorded for a CD that will be issued by the orchestra sometime in the near future.

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