Sunday, March 4, 2018

Barry Douglas delights OSO audiences with a surprise Beethoven Concerto

Barry Douglas
Sunday February 25 saw Oregon Symphony audiences presented with a surprise performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor by Barry Douglas, who flew in to Portland from Belfast 2 nights before opening night upon the illness of pianist Francesco Piemontesi, who had been slated to perform Franck's Symphonic Variations and Richard Strauss' Burleske.

Opening with Samuel Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra,  the OSO played this incredibly lush and inviting work well, changing from somber and beautiful to frenetic chasing, spritely and light, with a sure and deft hand.

The orchestral interpretation that associate conductor Norman Huynh chose for the Beethoven was a bit too polite and reserved, but Douglas was in fine form. His opening was dry, exposed and intimate, almost intentionally self-conscious it seemed, and he showed a deft, singing baritone that cut through the orchestral texture without being too pronounced. One could feel the true delight in his playing, which was almost dreamy at times.  The Largo was sleepy and yet his arpeggios were somehow quietly thunderous, gentle and yet full of character. The finale allowed Douglas to display show off his fireworks in the lightning chromatic motives. This was a performance marked by true understanding, and emotional as well as physical dexterity.

The marvelous, lengthy crescendo in the first movement of the Sibelius was built on spectral trumpet echoes and fierce tremolando from the strings, and the bassoon played a sad, baleful melody behind. There were balance issues during the fortissimos; it seemed impossible to restrain the crashing brass, and strings were at times completely subsumed though they were pounding away with all fury. Huynh however did a good job at bringing out a vague sense of menace, which could easily have been glossed over.  The Andante mosso was as pastoral as one could want, with different textures exploding from the depths of a dense sound-sea. The work closed with a grandiose blend from the brass, eliciting every ounce of emotion from the august swan theme.

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