The symphonic works of Anton Bruckner are played all too rarely in Portland. To the best of my knowledge only the Bruckner Seventh has been performed in the last 30 years. But based on what I heard on Saturday evening, November 17, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony is an excellent Bruckner band. Under the baton of guest conductor Alexander Soddy, the orchestra gave an incisive, brilliant, and emotionally rewarding performance of the Seventh.
The orchestra undertook the hour-long piece with breath-taking alacrity, scaling its monumental heights and descending into the depths as if they were nothing at all. Under the baton of Soddy, who is primarily known for his work as an opera conductor, the music began in an unhurried fashion with the massive architecture of sound unfolding in a natural, organic way. Soddy kept the tension under wraps so that the music didn’t reach its climax until the very end – which is a very difficult thing to do because of the massive build up and release of sound that occurs so often in the piece.
The four Wagner tubas, rented from San Francisco Opera, were played magnificently – with extra kudos to Joseph Berger whose playing bloomed and filled the hall in the second movement. Several exposed passages by flutist Martha Long were also performed outstandingly. The strings were also exceptional and held their own against the volleys from the brass section. If only there were 20 more string players to create an even more emphatic and demonstrative impression!
Ingrid Fliter, the Argentinian pianist and the winner of the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award last performed with the orchestra in 2008, playing Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. This time around, she performed Beethoven’s Piano No. 5, (aka “Emperor”) with the orchestra to a fairly full house. I was not impressed with the fact that she had not memorized the piece (using an electronic tablet for the score), because any kind of aid doesn’t allow the soloist to freely interpret music. She did play the louder sections very well, especially, the last spirited and jubilant final movement. But parts that involved softer sounds, such as in the second movement, could have been dreamier. Still, Filter connected well with the audience, which brought her and the conductor back to the stage three times.