Signature Symphony trip to 'Land of Chopin' is grand
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013
1/28/13 at 6:31 AM
The Signature Symphony may have only spent one half of Saturday evening's concert "In the Land of Chopin," but taken as a whole, this concert was one of the orchestra's most successful of the season.
Led by principal guest conductor Piotr Sulkowski, the orchestra presented two pieces by 20th Polish composers, both of which used Polish folk songs and traditional dance rhythms as the building blocks of these decidedly modern compositions.
The most recent work on the program was, coincidentally, the more familiar: "Orawa," a work for string orchestra by Wojchiech Kilar.
Sulkowski has led this work in Tulsa at least twice before - once with a chamber orchestra he founded, again with the Signature Symphony - and it is a piece of music that I, for one, do not get tired of hearing.
Much of it is constructed of seven-note phrases, set to a kind of nervous, agitated rhythm that gives the piece its insistent, driving energy. Contrast comes from sudden shifts in dynamics, in the way the voices of the different sections are layered, and from the brief, mournful cello solo (well played by principal Monte Lawson), a sad song heard from a distance.
That solo is also one of the brief times that the piece called for a more polished tone; the rest of "Orawa," perhaps to show its rustic roots, emphasized the rough-hewn scratch and scrape of horsehair upon wire in its sound. And it ends with a joyous shout, a literal one, from the orchestra.
Maureen O'Boyle, the orchestra's concertmaster, was the soloist for the Concerto for Violin No. 3 by Grazyna Bacewicz. Bacewicz was an accomplished violinist as well as an acclaimed composer in her native Poland and elsewhere, although her work is not well known in the United States.
This concerto, written in the late 1940s, exploits the violin to full effect - it's loaded with all the "special effects" a violin can muster, from double-stops to pizzicato to passage work done at knuckle-cracking speed, as well as spanning the entire range of the instrument, from low-register growls to shrill and piercing highs.
And it's set against an orchestral accompaniment that is almost cinematic in its sweep, music that often flirts with the sentimental, but is kept from succumbing to schmaltz thanks to a keen, modernist edge.
O'Boyle played this piece with great confidence and gusto, from building the first movement from its slow, almost simple beginnings through the very languid second movement with its melancholy folk-song melodies, to the wild dance of the blazing, all-out finale that had the audience at the VanTrease PACE applauding,
These two works were so successful and enjoyable that one might have wished to hear more recent music from "the land of Chopin." Instead, the concert concluded with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 - perhaps out of place thematically, but here performed with precise and panache.
Much has been made of the opening phrase of this symphony - it's even the subject of a recent book, "The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination" by Matthew Guerrieri. Maybe the best thing to say about the Signature Symphony's performance is that you heard nothing but the music.
Sulkowski set a crisp pace from the start, and shaped the music with sharp, discerning hand - a biting attack on those opening notes, nothing portentous or ponderous, that carried through the first movement and gave it just the right note of urgency; the serenity of the slow, quiet third movement (highlighted by a fine solo from principal bassoonist Jim Fellows) abruptly exploding into the pyrotechnics of the finale.
Only in the second movement did a few problems arise - some less than clear notes from the horns, uncertain passages in the strings - but these lapses did not distract from the overall excellence of the performance.
Original Print Headline: Trip through 'Land of Chopin' is grand
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478