Monday, February 17, 2020

Hadelich astonishes with awe-inspiring performance of Paganini's First Violin Concerto

Augustin Hadelich returned to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on February 8th to give another phenomenal performance. This time, he conjured the magic of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1, turning that flashy piece into an awe-inspiring artistic statement. His impressive control of dynamics allowed him to shape each line in intriguing ways, such as when he soared into the highest notes yet made them fade ever so slightly. Whispery clean lines that alternated with pizzicatos phrases looked mind-numbingly easy in his hands. The lyrical melody in the second movement had just the right amount of sweetness and tenderness, and he iced it perfectly with a section of eerie glissandi. In the final movement, his fingers raced alone like the wind and at one point he flawlessly produced tones that seemed to whistle. It was just amazing.

The audience immediately responded to Hadelich’s performance with a standing ovation that would have gone on for a long time, but Hadelich quieted everyone down by performing his transcription of Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Again, Hadelich stunned everyone by impeccably playing the piece. It looked like he used his bow to generate one line and the fingers of his left hand to create the other. However, he did it, it was truly astounding, and he received another standing ovation.

Gabriella Smith’s Bioluminescence Chaconne received its world premiere the night before by the orchestra in Salem. Commissioned by the Oregon Symphony and conducted in the series by Carlos Kalmar, this piece offered a lot for the ears. The music had a light, yet layered touch that generated a shimmering, glowing sound. With trumpets and trombones fading in and out, it was easy to imagine whales or other creatures of the sea swimming nearby and then disappearing into the background. A distinct rhythmic drive became more prominent with the percussion section laying it on a bit thickly and three piccolos adding their voices. I distinctly heard the chaconne when the timpani took its turn (all sections of the orchestra had a go on it). I felt that Smith took us on a luminescent journey. It would be terrific if the orchestra put in on a recording.

Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) offered a sonic excursion into the heavens. Lots of suspended sounds, an underlying buzz or drone, crescendos emanating from the low brass, random strikes from the percussion section, repeated glissandos in the strings, and a march-like section that suddenly cut away, did give the sense of spheres moving about somewhere in the galaxy. It was a piece that I would’ve liked to have heard again. Maybe the orchestra could add it to a future recording as well!

The orchestra delivered an incisive interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the popular arrangement by Ravel. Each movement of the piece received a polished sound. Highlights included brilliant contributions on the trumpet (Jeffrey Work), French horn (John Cox), Carin Miller Packwood (bassoon), tuba and baritone (JáTtik Clark), and the guest saxophonist who absolutely sparkled in her playing. The one odd thing was that the “Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells” didn’t generate any chuckles from the audience (like it usually does). Perhaps that was because it wasn’t spontaneous enough. In any case, there are mysteries about music that will probably remain a mystery.

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