The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) continued to amaze and inspire with yet another impassioned performance last night at the Bob Carr. Celebrating 20 years of music, the orchestra arrived at a climactic point with stunning performances of two masterpieces and a world premiere concert opener.
Into Light is Stella Sung’s new piece for full orchestra. “I was asked to write something rather short, more or less in a fanfare style,” says the composer-in-residence of the OPO, and this is precisely what she devised for the occasion. Opening with a theme on horns and lower brass, the music steadily escalates and is joined by full strings. The short and cinematic inaugural piece features rich orchestration and technical prowess from an incredibly talented composer, but it closely adheres to its strict opening-fanfare function.
Edward Elgar’s lush and imaginative masterpiece Enigma Variations received a superb reading by Maestro Christopher Wilkins and a devoted orchestra in full use of its potential. Conducting from memory, Wilkins’ style was emotive and perceptive, as is the case of a conductor who understands the merit of a classic score and its context. The orchestra swiftly changed styles and conveyed the mood of each of the 14 variations.
With sweeping arm gestures, engaging each instrumental section upon their respective entrance, Wilkins signaled the beginning of the beautiful main theme. The first highlight was the humorous Variation III, contrasting with the pensive music that precedes it. The rapid bassoon lines were played really well by Diane Bishop and Julie Fox.
Remarkable moments throughout the 30-minute performance include the variations that feature heavy percussion, such as IV and VII. Principal Timpanist Carl Rendek was outstanding as always, supported by bass drum beats and cymbal crashes. The brass section of the OPO has always been a strong point of the orchestra, especially last night. Their forte blasts during the seventh variation, supported by the percussion, were alarmingly impressive.
A moving performance of the gorgeous ‘Nimrod’, the centerpiece of Elgar’s score, was another highlight. The solo cello lines that bookend Variation XII were passionately played by Ronald Gardiner. This was followed by the amazing ‘Romanza’, which was perhaps the most well-executed moment of the whole piece. Following a lively theme for flute, the mood quickly changes to a brooding atmosphere and is underscored by a soft percussion roll, it rises to a moving climax with brass and quickly descends again, only to be immediately taken back to the opening lively theme. Wilkins’ accomplishment in dynamics was pristine.
Elgar’s exciting self-portrait, with its cymbal splashes, bass drum rolls and swirling forte strings, ended the first half of the evening with a note of excitement and vigor.
Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is a masterpiece of its genre, firmly attached to its historic context. Pianist Yefim Bronfman is an absolutely incredible soloist with a technical adroitness beyond belief. This could be marveled at during the soloist’s improvisational flourishes up and down the keyboard that follow each of the three orchestral chords with which the lengthy Allegro opens.
The orchestra served the soloist very well, with effective dynamics and a comfortable pace. Details such as the delicate and dreamlike second theme in the upper register, performed by Bronfman atop soft offbeat pizzicato pinches from the strings, will surely remain a highlight in the history of the OPO’s collaboration with soloists. Beethoven’s carefully constructed cadenza, holding fast to the form and core material of the movement, still allowed the brilliant pianist to show off his skill. Bronfman did not fail to impress.
The touching second movement was an accomplishment in dynamics, balance and interaction with the soloist. Principal Flute Colleen Blagov stood out with soft lines that embellished the music. Bronfman’s crescendo trills in the middle section, segueing into a solo statement of the main theme, made for a particularly memorable moment of the performance.
An upbeat Rondo finale brought back the orchestra in full force, customarily alternating new sections with the opening theme. Rendek’s timpani intermingled with the string section and soloist toward the end, bringing a highly virtuosic performance to a heightened close.
To visit the OPO’s website, click here.
To read more about Yefim Bronfman, click here.
To watch a clip of Elgar’s beautiful ‘Nimrod,’ from the Enigma Variations, click here.
To listen to Elgar’s ‘Romanza,’ from the Enigma Variations, click here.
To watch a clip of the graceful Adagio from Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, click here.
To read a review of the OPO’s performance of The Marriage of Figaro, click here.