Signature Symphony soloists bring lush new depth
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
10/09/12 at 6:56 AM
Five years ago, pianist Jie Yuan made his orchestral debut with the Tulsa Symphony, performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor.
Yuan performed this work again Saturday, this time as part of the season's first classics concert by the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College. And the difference between those two performances was striking.
What was most memorable about that first performance was its ferocious energy, its feverish intensity, the dry, brittle tone that Yuan used to underscore these qualities.
His performance Saturday night still had that energy and intensity, but under greater control and presented with a sound that was lush and full of complexity. Yuan is still a very young man, but his approach to this music was undeniably more mature.
The interaction between soloist and orchestra was collaborative rather than combative, as it was in 2007. This showed up most noticeably in the second movement - a slow, moody nocturne - where Yuan's delicate, voice-like phrasing gave the music an intense poignancy.
The orchestra, under the direction of artistic director Barry Epperley, provided a richly Romantic counterpoint to Yuan's solo work and highlighted some exceptional soloist work by principal clarinetist Christy Andrews.
The concert also featured clarinetist Weixiong Wang - like Yuan, a past winner of the International Crescendo Music Awards, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Tulsa - in the Concerto for Clarinet in A major by Mozart.
And like the Rachmaninoff concerto, Mozart's lone concerto for the clarinet was designed to exploit both the range of the instrument and the expressive abilities of its performer. Low honks and piercing highs occur side-by-side throughout the piece, and the soloist is given passage after passage of music that unfolds the same sort of beauty and logic as the path of a butterfly through the air.
Wang handled every challenge winningly. His varied, yet subtle vocal tone was employed with great dexterity that brought depth to the concerto's introspective, almost moody, second movement and made the high-spirited finale bubble with joy.
The exuberance of the music seemed to affect Wang himself - one got the impression that he would have happily left that invisible "box" orchestra soloists occupy on the stage to move, Pied Piper-like, through the audience. And I think everyone in the crowd would have happily followed along.
On its own, the Signature Symphony performed Liszt's Symphonic Poem No. 3, "Les Preludes," and the Busoni arrangement of the Overture to "Don Giovanni" by Mozart.
The Liszt suffered from problems of balance - certain sections of the orchestra easily overwhelmed all others - that could be attributed to the VanTrease PACE's lack of a decent orchestra shell. And this performance showcased some fine solo work by clarinetist Andrews, principal oboist Lisa Wagner and principal French horn Marsha Thompson.
But the "Don Giovanni" overture, while not played badly, lacked any sense of real dramatic drive. Those opening chords should startle, even frighten - the title character of this opera is destined to be dragged down to hell, after all.
Here, these chords merely sounded nice and set the tone for a performance that had all its pieces in place, yet still didn't show the entire picture.
Original Print Headline: Signature Symphony soloists thrill
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Pianist Jie Yuan, shown during his 2007 performance with the Tulsa Symphony, returned to Tulsa for a classics concert with the Signature Symphony on Saturday. Tulsa World file