Jon Kimura Parker delivered a finely honed and satisfying performance of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Oregon Symphony on Saturday evening (Oct. 3) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in its first concert of the classical music season. I really liked the way that Parker painted a lovely canvas with this piece. The first movement was shaped with understated beauty. The second offered a lyrical and tender perspective, especially in the passage that sounds like raindrops falling hear and there. The third had a more forceful and spirited flair, and created a lively and exciting contrast that got the audience out of its seats with loud bravos.
The orchestra, led by Carlos Kalmar, played with great sensitivity. The horns had many passages that came across with elegance and beautiful phrasing. The strings played impeccably, but I would liked to have heard more presence from them. If the orchestra could afford a just few more violins, that would’ve made the entire experience more gratifying.
After intermission, the string sections of the orchestra returned to the stage to engage us with Béla Bartók’s “Divertimento for String Orchestra.” This three-movement work contained so many playful elements that it was fascinating to watch and listen. The music stayed in flux, including volume, tempos, rhythms, pauses, and accents. There were moments of follow the leader, such as in the third movement when concertmaster Jun Iwasaki would introduce a theme that others would then take over. The music would be traded from section leaders to entire sections to duets or trios or quartets or other intriguing combinations. The piece wound up an extended pizzicato passage, a light-hearted waltz, and a furiously fast section that showed how first-rate this orchestra can play.
The concert concluded with sparkling performance of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1. The brass, in particular, had many shining moments in this splashy piece, and that capped off the evening with an affirmative “joie de vivre.”
The concert, however, began on a somber note with the orchestra, honoring the death of its beloved stage manager Bob McClung with very exquisite playing of the Adagietto from Maher’s 5th Symphony. The most poignant moment came when the strings were so quiet that a single note from the harp rang out beautifully and loudly. I did hear some sniffles from patrons in the balcony; so I think that the music-making of the orchestra rang true.