We often hear that good things come to those who wait. I've waited 24 years (not too patiently I might add) to hear a live performance of the “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten's opera “Peter Grimes.”
After dropping hints to Joel Levine over the years, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's music director finally programmed this brilliant masterpiece. The orchestra's evocative performance also convinced me that this venture was equally enjoyable for the musicians.
When discussions turn to brilliant orchestrators, names such as Berlioz, Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel readily come to mind. But Britten's ability to create a distinctive aural palette revealed itself in richly burnished brass chords (in the opening “Dawn”), flickering woodwind quips (in “Sunday Morning”), marvelous shifting harmonies spiced with remarkable dissonances (in “Moonlight”) and a huge orchestral roar (in “Storm”).
Britten's tale of a crusty British fisherman whose apprentice dies mysteriously, led the composer to create some stark yet hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric music. To my ears, the “Sea Interludes” rank among orchestral music's most satisfying creations.
They may be an acquired taste but for those willing to listen with unprejudiced ears, the rewards are plentiful. I applaud Levine and orchestra for this bit of adventuresome programming. I have other orchestral gems to suggest but I'll save them for a later date.
Subtitled “Songs of Land and Sea,” this concert offered another reward that was also worth the wait. It's been 19 years since violinist Gil Shaham performed with the orchestra and the opportunity to hear this singularly gifted artist was especially welcome.
Shaham has likely played Brahms' “Violin Concerto in D Major” hundreds of times during his 20-plus years of concertizing, but there was never a hint of routine in his performance. As Shaham waited for his entrance, he nodded approvingly at what he heard from the orchestra, his facial expressions showing a childlike glee.
What was immediately apparent was a consistency of tonal beauty throughout the violin's range, an ideal mix of soloist and instrument — in this case, Shaham's 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius.
Shaham frequently tended to edge toward the front of Levine's podium, something common in rehearsal but rarely observed in concert. Such stances compromised his ability to project but one can hardly fault him for being fully engaged in his efforts.
There were times when Shaham actually made you hear a familiar phrase anew, not an easy task with such a well-known concerto. He answered the audience's vociferous ovation that followed with a brief encore of music by Bach.
The remaining works were textbook examples of musical nationalism, both of which allowed principal clarinetist Brad Behn to demonstrate his fine technique. Glinka's delightful “Kamarinskaya” was Russian to the core, with hints of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Kodaly's “Dances of Galanta,” in turn, steeped the listener in Hungarian folk music. With its abundant syncopation, this is music for an orchestra in search of a downbeat. The work clattered along convincingly and its final surge to the end was breathtakingly vivid.
— Rick Rogers