The marketing slogan for this year’s Spokane Symphony season is simply “Say WOW.”
Music Director Eckart Preu explains: “One of our goals this year is to surprise you at every concert, to lend unpredictability to a seemingly predictable environment.”
The surprise at Saturday’s concert at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox was a performance by Patricia Bartell, an acclaimed Spokane performer and teacher of accordion. The piece she played was a brief tango, and her ironclad technique and complete control of the rhythmic and coloristic resources of her instrument kept the audience spellbound.
Would that the first scheduled piece on the program had achieved the same balance between technique and expression.
The work, “Last Round,” by Argentine-Israeli composer Osvaldo Golijov, calls for two string orchestras, which sometimes compete against, and sometimes complete, each other. Though conceived in grief, the witty structure of the piece and its theatrical presentation are sometimes louder than the emotion they are supposed to express.
This was no fault of Preu and the orchestra, who achieved all the tension and pathos the composer asks for by casting aside traditional notions of correct string playing, digging in fiercely to produce either a gritty or super-saturated sound.
The energy and intensity that Preu and the orchestra, notably Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski, poured into the uncompromising work had an impact on the audience, though experiences of greater impact lay ahead.
Many performances of Mozart’s music sound as though they are conducted by Mrs. Butterworth, with string tone that is rich, warm and fat, and streamlined legato phrasing. From the first measures of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3, Preu asked his players for light, crisp bowing, which allowed for phrasing that was intimately expressive.
The guest soloist, Tim Fain, matched these qualities perfectly, and added his own piercingly beautiful tone to what was a true collaboration. The inexhaustible invention of the 19-year-old Mozart was plainly a constant delight to the New York-based Fain and the orchestra, and, thus, to us. A bit less delightful were Fain’s own cadenzas, which, though dazzling, sorted oddly, not only with Mozart’s style, but with the emotional tenor of the work.
As an encore, he performed “Arches,” by Kevin Puts, which demonstrated that, whatever can be done on the violin, Fain can do.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, brought the program to a radiant conclusion, and clearly demonstrated Preu’s mastery of the work.