Saturday evening’s concert at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre featured the bravura of pianist Jon Kimura Parker and the full force of a 98-piece Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO), under the ever-adept baton of Maestro Christopher Wilkins.
The low strings and rumbling murmurs from the double basses that give Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 its distinctive sullen mood were introduced by Wilkins’ hand. The sudden shift in dynamics that lead to the second theme was well executed, with on-point timpani and soft, yet effective French horns and trumpets that Mozart’s proto-Romantic score calls for.
Parker, like most soloists of his generation, has deft hands and a great ear for dynamics that heighten the orchestra/soloist duality. The score has the soloist come in mysteriously before launching on the main theme, first introduced by the orchestra. Parker’s cadenzas spotlighted his complete control of the instrument as he traversed the keyboard, never letting go of the gloom of the main theme.
Wilkins kept the tempo at a steady pace and maintained a cool poise throughout; however, the sudden jolt to minor-key tonality that interrupts the tranquility of the opening theme of the second movement could have been signaled more emphatically, for greater effect.
The bombastic tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) requires a large orchestra to portray Strauss’ source material: his own life. The OPO extended its roster of musicians to no less than 98, for a dramatic aural experience. The performance was a great achievement in the handling of heavy orchestration, dynamics and extreme changes in orchestral groupings — from full orchestra to solo violin.
The hero’s theme that opens the piece was triumphantly executed, displaying the OPO’s amazing brass section, led by principals Mark Fischer, horn; Lyman Brodie, trumpet; Jeffrey Thomas, trombone; and Robert Carpenter, tuba. The sneering woodwinds — led by principals Colleen Blagov, flute; Jamie Strefeler, oboe; Nikolay Blagov, clarinet; and Diane Bishop, bassoon — that represent the hero’s detractors were pungent and obtrusive, yet they mellowed down for the more lyrical sections of the long piece.
Perhaps the ‘hero’ of the performance was Concertmaster Rimma Bergeron-Langlois, whose solo violin parts represent the titular character’s companion, i.e. Strauss’ wife. Her playing was very touching, arousing emotion with her dexterity. It really brought to life this important character in the hero’s life.
Three offstage trumpets marked the beginning of the cacophonous battlefield scene. Not a section of the piece in which to neglect detail, the OPO exceed expectations in its delivery. An amazing percussion battery, led by Principal Brian Jordan, resounded across the hall. Wilkins’ conducting was assertive, bringing forth the “arresting and raucous sounds” that program annotator David Glerum describes in his notes.
The return of the hero’s theme was majestic, making this expansive tone poem full circle. A lone English horn sings a pensive theme toward the end, and Barbara Midney intoned her melodic lines with warmth. This was followed by a last section for solo violin and horn, in which Bergeron-Langlois and Fischer evoked a graceful love song, joined by the orchestra and thus concluding one more thriving orchestral journey by the Orlando Philharmonic.
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To visit pianist Jon Kimura Parker’s website, click here