The 2014 – 2015 season of the Orlando Philharmonic continued on Saturday with a full house witnessing the youthful vigor of maestro Steven Jarvi, the virtuosity of violin soloist Midori, and Orlando’s ever-growing premier classical music ensemble.
One of the five finalists for the Music Director position, Jarvi showed flexibility for contrasting pieces and an energetic stage presence, particularly during the second half of the program. Although the program played it safe with music from the standard repertoire, the structured violin concerto by Schumann, which is performed much less often, greatly contrasted Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, a touchstone in orchestration with a compelling extra-musical story.
Jarvi and the Phil took the opening several measures of the first movement, ‘Dream, Passions,’ with a dreamy rubato feel – a relaxed pace that eases off from the beat. The extraordinary orchestration assigns the essential building blocks of the symphony to woodwinds and brass, the latter very prominent in the last two movements. Principal flute Colleen Blagov intoned the bittersweet theme that connects all movements – the idée fixe, representing unrequited love – first hinted by the strings when the tempo of the first movement quickens.
The opening idea of the third movement, a bucolic scene a la Beethoven 6 in which two farm workers or harvesters communicate across the distance, was brought to life by Sherwood Hawkins playing oboe from the right side of the Bob Carr’s balcony, answering English horn calls by Sotos Djiovanis.
The defining moment of the whole concert was the supremely performed ‘March to the Scaffolds,’ a terrifying scene in which the hero of the story, in a deep opium-induced sleep, dreams of his own execution. Toward the climax, the guillotine comes down with a violent orchestral blow; a very short and bouncy pizzicato phrase depicts the head falling into the basket, or so it seems.
Hell breaks loose in the ‘Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,’ made up of the classic Dies Irae theme, and a round led by contrapuntal strings. The extended percussion section added the requisite punch to this ghastly scene of our hero’s hellish descent, following the murder of his beloved by his own hand. The idée fixe is transmogrified into a revolting mockery of itself, a ghoul of what once was. The execution was brilliant, including all parts for clarinets, oboes, French horns, a frenzied bassoon flurry, and deafening trombone and tuba blares that rudely belched out the Dies Irae.
Jarvi’s conducting style was often exclamatory; he would turn sharply to cue in instruments, even taking a half step forward sometimes, and he would throw out his arms to emphasize the violent climaxes of the score. He even slightly leapt on the podium in unrestrained excitement during the raucous last few minutes.
The dazzling violinist player Midori showed technical command over the length of Robert Schumman’s Violin Concerto in D minor. Her impressive finger work, though, was shadowed by the subdued feel of the performance. In the first and second movements, Jarvi seemed to be focusing more on Schumann’s formulaic outlines than on nuances in dynamics and phrasing; perhaps if he had relaxed his steady beat to give the instrumental groups more room to breathe, the soloist-ensemble interaction might have been warmer.
On the other hand, the clarinet lines by Nikolay Blagov provided a pleasant contrast in the first movement, and the solo cello lines of the introspective second movement were executed with emotion by Ronald Gardiner. The dynamic level turned up a few notches for the finale, which was especially rousing after the slow movement.
The concert opener was the very well-known Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin. With a steady hand and emphatic arm motions, Jarvi glided through the brief showcase for large orchestra. The strenuous trombone lines came in as if Jarvi was trying to turn the knob up to 11, nearly overpowering the strings with their arresting and reverberating force.
Jarvi’s Symphonie fantastique performance was a strong follow-up to last September’s season-opening concert with Alondra de la Parra at the helm. His guest-conducting performance for the Classics Series of the Orlando Philharmonic will be followed by engagements with Eric Jacobsen, Dirk Meyer, and Leslie Dunner, all vying for the organization’s highest position in artistic leadership and programming.
To visit the Orlando Philharmonic’s website, see details about upcoming performances, and purchase tickets, click here.
To read a review of Alondra de la Parra’s recent season-opening performance with the Orlando Philharmonic, click here.
To read a recent interview with Steven Jarvi by the Orlando Sentinel, click here.
To watch a full performance of the Symphonie fantastique by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, click here.
To watch a full performance of Schumman’s Violin Concerto, click here.