Saturday evening’s concert by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) and guest soloist Sarah Chang, led by guest conductor Alasdair Neale, manifested the degree of excellence and earnest dedication to the art of music toward which the orchestra has been ascending during its 20-year history. The conductor-soloist-orchestra symbiosis was polished to near perfection, as were the individual performances of these constituents that give life to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center during every concert of each season.
Rossini’s light concert-opener Semiramide Overture served as an introduction to the different instrumental families of the orchestra, as the piece consists of contrasting episodes that repeat and develop and finally rise to a climax. The segments for French horn quartet were especially touching and memorable, even after being interrupted by the sudden entrances of the full string section and timpani. Shrill piccolo lines and Colleen Blagov’s lucid flute were also the protagonist’s of the performance. The most effective detail as a group effort, however, was the crescendo near the end, rising up to a climactic conclusion, carefully controlled by Neale.
Samuel Barber’s amazing Concerto for Violin was given the supreme treatment it deserves by Chang and company. The soloist’s entrance at the very beginning was well-sustained and exuded a warm tone, over an orchestra masterfully controlled by Neale. His conducting style is very expressive, focusing on hands and arms gestures, with a poised stance. The working out of the details was rich and made the Concerto an excellent performance. The subtle piano embellishments, for example, did not go unnoticed. Chang played with absolute control, incredible dexterity and attention to the orchestra, the last of which could be appreciated during her rehearsals with the OPO prior to the concert.
The gorgeous second movement was played passionately. Jamie Strefeler’s pensive oboe lines opened the movement with great assuredness. Chang’s interpretation of this initial theme, later in the movement, was ardent in her violin’s low string, supported by ethereal French horns and slowly unfurling low strings.
The incessant frenzy of the finale, contrasting greatly with the character of the preceding movements, was a showstopper. Chang’s acrobatic triplets, with rosin flying through the air, gave a full house in attendance an intense and long-lasting impression, in case the earlier portions did not quite register in their minds. The orchestra did not stay behind, either. The part where the violins echo the frenetic solo part of the beginning, with forte stabs from the brass, was an impressive moment to witness.
The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was extraordinary in all aspects. It saw a well-prepared OPO, with all controls set for the heart of the listener, resulting in a rousing reading of this tremendous symphony. Neale excelled at controlling the large forces of the orchestra, smoothing out contrasts in dynamics to an ideal instance where strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion became one.
The low clarinets, led by Nikolay Blagov, opened the first movement with its hauntingly dark mood. The hero of the symphony, arguably, was Principal French Horn Mark Fischer. His performance of the gorgeous solo lines of the andante cantabile second movement was soulful. With a very mellifluous and sweet intonation, the horn player controlled his pitch not only with precision but with charisma, addressing the composer’s thoughts on the inevitable role of fate in his life. Tchaikovsky’s violent brass interjection, harking back to the arresting mood of the first movement, was handled dramatically by the guest conductor.
The symphony’s finale unleashes a train of emotion that initially seemed unbearable to some, in the times of the composer. A perfect assemblage of interacting parts, the OPO forcefully carried the tumultuous body of melody, texture and structure that constitutes the music. Toward the end, the brass section (especially trombones and trumpets) was so powerful that it almost drowned the more numerous string section, which is not a bad thing – just the nature of the music’s hyper-dramatic character. In this movement, and throughout the symphony, the composer’s special polyphonic moments were highly gratifying for those with attentive ears for nuances in symphonic textures.
Boasting a great soloist, the fruitful work of a talented guest conductor, and, above all, a synergistic collaboration among the talented members of the orchestra, this great concert was a demonstration of the love of art music.
A second performance follows on Sunday 27 at 3 p.m.
To visit the website of the Orlando Philharmonic, click here.
To visit Sarah Chang’s website, click here.
To watch a full performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, led by Leonard Bernstein, click here.