Monday, March 26, 2018

Brahms Violin Concerto, folkloric goblins, and lovely requiem fulfilled in Oregon Symphony concert

I have not heard the music used in the Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water” yet, but I wonder if the composer might have been influenced by Antonín Dvořák’s “The Water Goblin.” Probably not, because that gem of a piece has fall by the wayside over the years after Dvorak uncorked it 1896. Perhaps that is understandable, given the gruesomeness of the folktale that the music describes. But what the heck, Bartok’s “Bluebeards Castle” is pretty gruesome and misogynistic and it is played quite a bit. Well, in any case, I heard the Oregon Symphony’s performance of “The Water Goblin” on March 17th and it was awesome.

The piece, based on a story by Karel Erben, opened with a dancelike theme that bubbled brightly, perhaps conveying the goblin in his watery abode. That faded deftly to an idyllic section that depicted a girl from the village who goes to the lake where the goblin lives. Brooding, ominous sounds followed by a silky passage from the strings suggested conflict, and sure enough, a percussive wham and descending lines gave me the feeling that the girl fell and was dragged to the bottom of the lake by the goblin. A lyrical passage conveyed a lullaby for the baby (offspring of the girl and the goblin), and a myriad of sonic textures made the rest of the story easy to imagine right down to the end with tuba and bass trombone decaying mournfully at the sight of the dead baby and the goblin returning to his lair.

Of course, after a death, there must be a requiem. So the orchestra performed Howard Hanson’s Symphony No.4, subtitled “Requiem,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1944. The orchestra performed the four-movement work exquisitely. The plaintive bassoon, the passacaglia-like passage for the trumpets, and the brass chorale highlighted the first two movements (“Kyrie” and “Requiescat”). The third (“Dies irae”) delivered a wakeup call and kept a punchy, pulsating rhythm that led to a glowing and glorious fourth movement (“Lux aeterna”) with the violins piling lovely, falling tones over and over until they decrescendo away. It was a stunningly beautiful interpretation that may end up in a CD, because the evening’s performances were recorded by engineers from the Pentatone label.

After intermission came a flawless performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto with guest artist Vadim Gluzman. His impeccable playing cut through the orchestra perfectly – never too much, never too little – and he made the entire piece look like a walk in the park. His chose to do the cadenza that Joseph Joachim wrote, and played it with fire and brilliance that just lit up the stage. The lovely duet that Gluzman did with principal oboist Martin Hébert in the “Adagio” could not have been sweeter.

Thunderous applause and cheering followed the rousing final movement, which brought Gluzman back to the stage several times. He and the strings of the orchestra responded with an immaculate performance of “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Christoph Willibald Guck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” It was the perfect, delicious desert to top off the evening.

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