If a single word could sum up the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra’s concert Saturday at the Tulsa PAC, it would be “intensity.”
It was a term guest conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann used numerous times in introducing the two purely orchestral works on the program – the Overture to “Beatrice and Benedict” by Berlioz, and Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.
Those works – one light, one dark – were infused with a febrile energy that certainly lived up to the description “intense.”
Intensity of a different sort informed pianist Robin Sutherland’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor by Mozart.
Sutherland has been called by critics “the perfect Mozart pianist,” and as someone who has heard his performances of this composer’s music over the course of some three decades, this appellation is not hyperbole. Sutherland’s rapport with the music of Mozart is at once highly intelligent and deeply felt, highlighting the surface beauty of the music while drawing out the profundity of emotions below that surface.
The No. 24 concerto is unusual as it is one of only two such works that Mozart wrote in a minor key, one which is usually associated with highly portentous, dramatic music.
But Sutherland’s performance Saturday much more introspective and meditative, his fluid yet precise attack bringing a welcome lightness to the proceedings. You never got the sense of an interpretation being imposed upon the music, but instead a heartfelt conversation between the music and performer.
And Sutherland also engaged in a bit of impish humor, incorporating into the first movement cadenza a minor-key arrangement of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” and giving the audience a knowing wink at the end.
In response to the audience’s standing ovation, Sutherland returned to the stage to perform the Partita No. 2 by Bach.
Zimmermann compared Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra with a novel that one could not put down once begun, or a film that captivates no matter how many times one has seen it.
“If this is your first time to hear this piece, congratulate yourself,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”
These were rather large promises on which to deliver, but Zimmermann and the Tulsa Symphony did just that. The concerto is a curious piece – angular and fragmented as one might expect of a mid-20th century composition, yet brimming with melody and powered by an insistent sense of motion.
This, along with the orchestra’s impassioned playing, made for a riveting performance, full of sharply handled dynamics and a full spectrum of orchestral colors.
The evening began with Berlioz’s overture to his opera based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Zimmermann described Berlioz as being a bit like “a 10-year-old without Ritalin” – and the fizzy, scattered quality of this piece seemed to underscore that, as Zimmermann and the orchestra gave this music all the sparkle and joy it could want.