Oregon Symphony’s concert on October 26th was a blast! Soloist Johannes Moser and the orchestra under Carlos Kalmar turned Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto into an entertaining standoff that had everyone at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall of the edge of their seats. We were also treated to an evocative taste of Peru via Gabriela Lena Frank’s Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra. And all of that was topped off with an incisively energetic performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Moser, the Oregon Symphony’s Artist-in-Residence, gave a mesmerizing interpretation of the Lutosławski concerto, emphasizing his role as a soloist whose musings on the cello are interrupted by the collective of musicians surrounding him. He looked askance and fairly annoyed at the interruptions from the orchestra. Of course, that was all part of the piece, but he could take a few simple notes – sometimes the exact same note – and make each stroke of that note totally engaging. At other times, he would suddenly embark on a wild frenzy of notes then in a split-second return to the same set of pulsating notes that he started with. The brass would crash into his idyllic world and back off, but after Moser reestablished his path another section of the orchestra would butt disruptively. Moser would become defiant, taking wide movements with his bow and his entire body as if to fend of the sonic intruders. Sometimes the pace would quicken as if he had hurried away to find a private space. But the orchestra always tracked him down and to pummel him with volleys of sound. Moser exhibited unbelievable control of his instrument, despite playing wickedly virtuosic passages. The combative nature of the piece had a wonderfully spontaneous feeling that made the music amazingly compelling.
After the pieces concluded – with no obvious winner – the audience showered Moser and forces with enthusiastic applause that would have gone on and on if Moser had not had an encore ready. For that he teamed up with orchestral bass Nina DeCesare for a delightful transcription of a Rossini number – humorously mimicking a motif from the Lutosławski – which brought down the house again.
On the front end of the program, we heard Frank’s Walkabout, a four-movement work that was inspired by her travels in Peru, which is her mother’s homeland. “Soliloquio Serrano” (Mountain Soliloquy) was devoted to the strings and featured solos by the principals, including several brief flurries by concertmaster Sarah Kwak and a lovely plaintive solo by principal violist Joël Belgique. “Huaracas” (Slingshots) catapulted forward with punchy rat-ta-tats from the brass. Marimbas and other percussive instruments kept things stirred up and the orchestra created threatening sounds that swelled and subsided until the sound finally drifted away. “HailÍ” (Prayer) was introspective yet bumpy and even gently throbbing, opening and closed with a dense mesh of sound from the strings. “Tarqueada” (which referred to a parade of musicians) offered a festive outburst with whistles, a thunder sheet, high nasal-sounding clarinets, pounding timpani, and spirited brass. It was lively conclusion to the sonic tour of Peru, which was capped off by Frank, who came to the podium to acknowledge the sustain acclamation from the concertgoers
The concert finished with a superb performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Led by Kalmar, the orchestra made this evergreen fresh and invigorating. Terrific articulation, little accents here and there, well-shaped phrases, wonderful dynamics – the entire piece was a gem form start to finish. The glowing sound of the French horn from Joseph Berger and the spirited, uplifting piccolo of Zachariah Galatis were just two of the highlights of the evening. Everyone left the concert hall with a buoyant step.