Sunday, November 24, 2019

Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony deliver glorious Mozart and Mahler

Alexi Kenney
On Saturday November 16 violinist Alexi Kenney joined Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony to perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major ("Strassburg"), and the orchestra finished the evening with Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony, No. 6 in A Minor.

Initially the strings felt a bit anemic, so the winds fortunately added a needed spark.  There was a perfect sync between solo and orchestra, and it almost felt as though Kenney were serenading the players and they responded in kind. Intensive and focused restraint was necessary from the orchestra to let Kenney's delicacy shine, and the OSO did just that.  Kenney's cadence was delicious, coming as it did on the heels of a long sustained crescendo.

Kenney displayed no over-reliance on predictable cadential trills--he played straight scales and arpeggios so that when the trills did happen, they really meant something, just as they ought. The adagio felt like a siren call, a subdued murmuring from an orchestra playing with baited breath--the tenderest and most sympathetic adagio possible. Not the flashiest or most technically demanding work in the repertoire, still this concerto was great fun to hear.

The Mahler opened with a doomsaying thrum on the low strings--there was no holding back here. Diabolical visions emerged from the piercing fanfare of the brass. The strings were like a seething sea of melancholy from which the horns bravely but impossibly tried to extricate themselves. The horn solo was fantastic--smooth and perfect, before the horrifying blasts from the low strings yet again.

The Andante was a beatific ascension, and Kalmar the OSO read one another's intent and movement flawlessly. What an heroic chordal display unfolded from the brass--leaning on the lower neighbor tones so hard they almost broke, creating an incredible tension that then resolved in an angelic chorus, and immense sentimentality flowed from the orchestra in wave after golden wave. The third movement featured more shocking eructations from the brass, who really had their work cut out for them this night.

The finale began with some clunky explorations, with handsome, throaty intonation from the violas.  The horn work was especially impressive all evening--uniform and splendorous. The amazing molto pianissimo from the violins was such a subtle whispering that one couldn't be sure if they were actually making a sound, or whether it was something that was felt from the inside, a sympathetic harmonic vibration from within. As the end drew nigh OSO exposed a titanic and eschatological furor, as grandiose as one could want from Mahler.

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