Oregon Music News
By James Bash
February 21, 2011
Jennifer Koh put on a dazzling display of violin virtuosity in her performance with the Oregon Symphony on Sunday evening. Whether hurtling down the fast lane or meandering along in an idyllic country lane, Koh played with finesse and conviction to deliver marvelous renditions of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and Béla Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra. Outstanding playing by the orchestra, under the direction of resident conduct Gregory Vajda, added polish to the gem-like quality of both pieces.
In the Barber, Koh excelled in subtly changing from a vibrato to a straight tone, which helped to shade and shape the lyric and almost wistful quality of the first movement. In the second, principal oboist Martin Hebert and assistant principal horn Joseph Berger assisted Koh in creating a rhapsodic mood that was transcendent. The third movement showed off Koh’s dashing athleticism and artistry. Her bow-arm was moving at such a fast pace that she would’ve been given a speeding ticket – even on the autobahn.
Koh put an equal amount of intensity into her performance of the Bartok piece, delving into its rhythmic complexities with aplomb. As she expressed its gypsy-like themes, she alternated between vigorous passages and tender ones, some of which were punctuated wonderfully by the woodwinds. Koh’s style became more animated in the second half of this piece, but she kept an atmosphere charming and simple, and her musicality won over the audience, which called her back to the stage a couple of times with its applause.
The orchestra gave a superb performance of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony with Vajda at the helm. The musicians showed tight ensemble playing that reveals how well they hear each other – despite the acoustic limitations of the stage. Some of the many highlights were burnished sounds from principal horn John Cox, the fluttering and beautiful lyric sounds of principal flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, and the perfect tonal blend of principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao and Mark Dubac. The orchestra created dramatic and dynamic shifts that were exciting to hear, especially with spot-on shifts in volume and tempi.
The concert began to a short piece by Vajda called Duevoe. Lots of brief, sliding tones created the impression of an ensemble affected by dropsy, but that thematic material changed into a series of wiggle waggle sounds that evolved or devolved into some truncated dance-like themes in the strings. Somewhere along the way, the brass and percussion entered into the fray, and with principal tuba JáTtik Clark accenting the mélange with a pedal-like-tone, the orchestra created an unsteady, staggering musical concoction that came to a sudden stop.
In his prefatory remarks to this piece, Vajda noted that Joseph Berger created – or re-created – an unusual Hungarian instrument called the bull’s-roar. It’s sort of a whirligig that makes a low humming sound. Percussionist Gordon Rencher played it like an expert, and its windmill effect gave the Vajda’s piece a “look” that was totally unique.
Copyright ©2011 Oregon Music News