January 30, 2012 in City

Orchestra review: The highs and lows of interpretation

Larry Lapidus Correspondent
 

Saturday’s concert of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox illustrated both the benefits and the risks of building a program out of acclaimed masterpieces.

The benefit is that the audience need not overcome the fear of the unfamiliar and arrives eager to listen. The risk is that the performances they hear are compared with dozens of others.

The bar had been set very high for the works on Saturday and Sunday’s program, Rossini’s Overture to his opera “William Tell,” Mozart’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D minor K. 466, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony in E flat major Op. 55 “Eroica.”

The orchestra and resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara easily cleared that bar in their performance of the Rossini overture, a masterpiece of theatrical music that compresses tenderness, lyricism, fury and triumph into 10 minutes of pure pleasure.

Rossini gave demanding solos to many of the principal players of the orchestra. John Marshall, principal cellist, opened the piece with playing that was sweet-toned and ardent. The superb wind section of the orchestra played beautifully, as always, with Bruce Bodden, flute, again proving himself incapable of producing a phrase that is not imaginatively phrased.

The virtuosity and brilliance of Rossini’s writing reminded one that it was this music that made “The Lone Ranger” famous, not vice versa.

The soloist in the Mozart Concerto No. 20 was the superb Croatian pianist Martina Filjak. Only a few bars after her entry, it became obvious that talk of “clearing bars” was irrelevant.

Filjak has described the power of Mozart to renew her in body and spirit. Her mastery of the piano enabled her to channel that restorative power to everyone in the hall.

The foundation of her power lay in her command of the dynamic resources of the piano. She set her baseline volume level at not the typical mezzo forte, but rather piano. Thus, even slight increases in volume registered distinctly and became intensely expressive, while her fortissimos made a stunning effect. Her technique shaded and highlighted the quicksilver shifts in Mozart’s musical dialogue with the orchestra, especially the breathtaking fluctuations between major and minor.

Filjak received a thunderous standing ovation and responded by playing the Intermezzo from Schumann’s “Carnival in Vienna,” in which her tone assumed the greater warmth and fullness appropriate to Romantic music.

The orchestra played superbly in its performance of “Eroica.” The precision and vitality maintained by the violins through their grueling part were particularly notable.

Nevertheless, the piece was not allowed to attain its full stature in this performance. Beethoven’s concept of the hero was different from ours. His hero, based on classical models, is a flawed figure, striving to overcome obstacles both within and without. In the Third Symphony, Beethoven’s artist-hero repeatedly staggers, stumbles and falls on his path toward triumph and redemption, finally achieved in the last movement.

Nakahara’s insistence on maintaining rhythmic drive at the expense of observing Beethoven’s myriad marks of dynamic expression weakened many of these countervailing details. The result was an impression of efficiency and confidence; virtues, no doubt, but hardly the full measure of this masterpiece.

The concert will be broadcast at 7 tonight on KPBX.

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