The series of concerts at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, featuring each of the finalists for the new Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic, concluded on Saturday night with a marvelous program, a supreme conductor, a soulful solo performance by Rimma Bergeron-Langlois, and an accomplished ensemble.
If any of the five candidates for the orchestra’s top artistic position – the person will be in charge of programming and of leading the technical and artistic prowess of the orchestra – truly deserves the distinction of ‘maestro,’ it is Dunner.
An extremely accomplished conductor, Dunner, 59, displayed the poise, control, and allure of a true orchestral leader. His impressive credits include Music Director of Canada’s Symphony Nova Scotia, Music Director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and, more recently, Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. He was also Kurt Masur’s assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic, and has stellar credentials in the operatic world.
The program was loosely based on the theme of war and the perseverance of life. Dunner took the podium for a powerful rendition of Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra. With World War II as its backdrop, the piece features bold and brash figures, accomplished by virtuosic orchestration. Dunner’s style, befitting of a seasoned master, shows a cool composure with relaxed torso motions, left-hand gestures, and refined sweeping gesticulations.
The warm tones from the solo flute and other woodwinds were offset by the forceful brass section. Trombones had never been as raucous, imbuing all three pieces with blood-pumping excitement, and also depicting the ugliness of warfare and strife in the face of adversity.
With a very recent performance of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and of his violin concerto, two years ago, it has been a thrill to hear our top local orchestra pay its respects to this phenomenal American composer, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes.
Ukrainian violinist Rimma Bergeron-Langlois, the wonderful concertmaster of the Orlando Philharmonic, performed a soulful rendition of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor. With its intricacies and peculiarities in structure, demanding virtuoso lines and memorable lyricism, the concerto was a great vehicle for the violinist’s skills.
The subdued opening introduces a somber theme, echoed by clarinet. The thematic progress eventually works its way to the lyrical second theme, which Bergeron-Langlois played with élan and emotion. The development section of the first movement is mostly carried out by a violin cadenza; Bergeron-Langlois exerted control over her attack, subtly fluctuating dynamic levels. The technical demand was met with elegance – double stops and swift broken chords carefully articulated to dazzling effect.
A change of pace in the second movement showed another side of the violinist, with a slower, penetrating theme, supported by mellow French horns. The bouncy romp of the finale, with full orchestral forces masterfully controlled by Dunner, had the soloist sizzling over an infectious, percussion-driven rhythm.
Bergeron-Langlois had a delightful season, including performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, last December, and this charming rendition of Sibelius’ indelible stable of the repertoire.
The orchestra reached new heights with Carl Nielsen’s remarkable Symphony No. 4, The Inextinguishable. The four movements, played without breaks, progress through an almost cinematic orchestral battlefield, characterized by exquisite orchestration. The brass section was as bold and emphatic as ever – along with the second half of the Barber essay, this might have been the loudest the Orlando Philharmonic has ever played – and just about overpowered the strings, but Dunner’s steady hand and superb control of the development of the instrumental groups kept the ensemble tight. The result was a high-strung outpouring, which had cautious listeners near the edge of their seats in the edgiest moments.
The second movement’s mellifluous woodwinds, over pizzicato strings were effective as a foil for the raucous trombones and tuba of the other movements.
Finally, the dueling timpani section of the fourth movement – the symphony’s single most distinctive feature – was performed with explosive power. Principal Carl Rendek and John Patton were pitted on either side of the stage. They battled off each other, with support from a crunching brass section.
Dunner’s skills as a superior conductor are unquestionable. It is unfortunate that the concert could only be presented once. If Dunner shares the same passion for contemporary and world-music pieces as Eric Jacobsen does (also a finalist for the music director position), the orchestra may very well have their new guy.
The Orlando Philharmonic continues their season on April 11, with two performances of ‘The Barbra Streisand Songbook’, featuring Ann Hampton Callaway. Visit orlandophil.org for more details.
To read the Orlando Sentinel’s review of this concert, click here.
To read a review of Bergeron-Langlois’ performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, click here.
To read a review of the Orlando Philharmonic’s recent performance of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, click here.
To read reviews of recent Orlando Philharmonic concerts, click here.