Breast Cancer Awareness
|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Symphony presents a dramatic showcase

  • Asked to do an impression of a classical pianist, an artist would draw Alexander Schimpf. The young German's bushy mane of dark hair is brushed straight back and up from a prominent forehead, and he moves with an artist's controlled grace.
    • email print
  • Asked to do an impression of a classical pianist, an artist would draw Alexander Schimpf. The young German's bushy mane of dark hair is brushed straight back and up from a prominent forehead, and he moves with an artist's controlled grace.
    Schimpf, 31, the guest artist for the Rogue Valley Symphony's weekend concert series, won the 2009 International Beethoven Competition in Vienna, and was the first German pianist ever to win the Cleveland International Piano Competition a year ago.
    Friday night at the Craterian Theater he delivered a deeply felt performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4. It's not a piece that overwhelms, but paired with Shastakovich's energetic Symphony No. 5, it made for a pleasing balance.
    The No. 4 is a more intimate work than what comes to mind when you say Beethoven concerto, and full of delicate drama. After the opening G major chord sets the tone, the piano for the most part carries the day. The orchestra soon enters with the same theme, stating it twice before a a cadence introduces a transitional theme.
    Much of the piece is a dialogue between piano and orchestra. Early on the Allegro moderato is rather sweet, almost playful. Schimpf delivered Beethoven's arpeggios with precision and clarity, running off great strings of notes as if they were being poured out of a bucket.
    The second movement found the orchestra leading, then the piano rising. Traditionally connected to Orpheus taming the Furies at the gates of Hell, the movement segues quietly into the major chords that open the finale. The finale was energetic but light, its simple theme leading to graceful piano passages as the orchestra remained silent.
    The audience wouldn't let Schimpf go without an encore, and the pianist obliged with a lovely little Johann Sebastian Bach composition in a modern arrangement.
    Stalin seized power in 1924, a year beofre Dmitri Sholstakovich's first symphony, and Shostakovich became the first Russian composer to have his career under the the Communist dictatorship.
    He fell from grace when Stalin saw his opera "Lady Macbeth," which didn't hue to proletarian realism. He was denounced in Pravda but escaped persecution. Perhaps with a sense of irony he subtitled his Fifth Symphony "A Soviet Artist's Reply to Just Criticism."
    It is a stormy one with an opening march with raging brass, lyrical woodwinds and a lot of percussion, but most of the heavy lifting falls to the violins. Communist doctrine demanded simplicity and optimism, which must have been a reach for the somewhat dour composer with his keen sense of irony.
    Even the opening bars hinted at something somber and deep. The orchestra charged through heroic passages in the Moderato, led by the strings, the horns close behind, the percussion crashing and thundering along.
    It's probably impossible for our ears to encompass the piece in the political and artistic context of a dogmatic dictatorship of 75 years ago, with life itself perhaps at stake for the composer.
    But the piece brims with urgency, with scrappy strings, brutal brass and repeated climaxes with drums, cymbals, gong and timpani. There were also moments of sublime beauty (isn't that perilously bourgeois?).
    In its most complex moments, the symphony had a feeling of immanence, as if something unseen is at work beneath the surface. Maybe Stalin was willing to hear that as the dialtectic of history, the proletarian masses marching ever onward.
    Whatever else it is, it's a ripping good showcase for theatrical Russian passion and the range of effects a modern orchestra can produce, from melodrama to triumphalism.
    Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.
Reader Reaction

      calendar