The Oregon Symphony revisits a symphonic keystone, con brio
James McQuillen | For The Oregonian/OregonLive By James McQuillen | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
on February 23, 2015 at 10:07 AM
Beethoven’s Fifth is both the most iconic symphony of all time and a touchstone for orchestral playing. In 2004, Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony in an electrifying performance of it that signalled a new era for the orchestra; a subsequent OSO performance five years later under guest conductor Claus Peter Flor was bracing but less of a thrill.
The orchestra embraced it again Saturday night under the direction of another guest, Christoph König, who made a memorable OSO debut two years ago. The electricity was back in a reading that attested to the uncanny power of the piece to engage conductor, players and audience alike, and the rest of the evening was engaging as well.
Highlights: The program was a bit of a haphazard assortment, but each of its parts was arresting in its own way. König gave hushed excitement in Rachmaninoff’s grim and mystical “Isle of the Dead”; violinist Stefan Jackiw was stunningly incisive in Witold Lutoslawski’s edgily modernist Partita and Antonín Dvorák’s F Minor Romance; and the Beethoven was full of terrifically crisp detail throughout the orchestra.
Low notes: The program was a bit of a haphazard assortment–it’s more satisfying when several fine parts make an even better whole, but given the performances, that’s a minor quibble. If there was anything to complain about, it was the usual: how on earth does a person get to be 50 or 60 or 70 years old without learning to suppress a cough or a sneeze?
Most valuable performer: König was all you could want in a conductor: communicative, efficient, energetic, easygoing and musical. Jackiw, making his third OSO appearance, had the thorny Lutoslawski thoroughly in his fingers and danced through the Dvorák with silvery tone and sterling intonation. The under-sung pianist Carol Rich accompanied Jackiw brilliantly in the Lutoslawski, particularly in the second and fourth movements, the realization of which the composer left to chance operations.
Moment of the night: It was perhaps predictable that applause would erupt after the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, but when it happened after the second movement, König turned around, smiled genially and raised two fingers to indicate that they weren’t finished.
Nice touch: Breaking from the standard overture-concerto-symphony format to have Jackiw play two vastly different pieces illuminated both the player and the music. Symphonies–and not just the OSO–should try that programming model more often.
Christoph König conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, Mussorgsky Scherzo in B-flat Major (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Premiere, and Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring the fabulously gifted 2010 Chopin Competition winner Yulianna Avdeeva. More info .