An opera overture that left nothing in its wake, a cello concerto discovered two centuries after it was presumed lost, and a symphony that took nearly 15 years to complete, each contributed to the “Force of Destiny” theme of a recent Oklahoma City Philharmonic classics concert.
Giuseppe Verdi, a titan among 19th century Italian opera composers, had an unfailing grasp of how to make an orchestra sound spectacular. His overture to “La Forza del destino” begins with six powerful brass unisons that perfectly set up the drama that follows.
The orchestra sparkled throughout this eight-minute curtain raiser, alternating between some of the opera's more subdued moments and the exciting passages that function as the engine that drives this overture. The tightness of the ensemble was especially impressive.
The concerto was noted both for its first appearance on this series and the soloist who was making his Oklahoma City Philharmonic debut. Zuill Bailey was a committed advocate for Haydn's “Cello Concerto in C Major,” made all the more special by the glorious sound he summoned from his 1693 Gofriller cello.
Haydn's concerto is enormously appealing, even to an audience that has never heard the work before, largely because of the simplicity and beauty of its insinuating melodies. Add a persuasive cellist such as Bailey and the combination is unbeatable.
That simplicity took on an added sense of elegance in the lovely middle movement, which despite a few slips of intonation on Bailey's part, unfolded with remarkable ease. The soloist demonstrated his technical facility in the finale, a performance that nicely captured Haydn's understated sense of humor.
Bailey chose the prelude from Bach's “Cello Suite No. 1” as his encore, a compelling performance that was the perfect complement to Haydn's concerto.
As music director Joel Levine commented before the orchestra's performance of Brahms' “Symphony No. 1 in C Minor,” the composer's score offers few suggestions about the best way to bring this music to light. Notes, tempo markings and dynamics are present, but little else.
It helped that conductor and orchestra had encountered this work twice before in its history. The work's impressive opening was full of breadth and sinew, two necessary elements in making a performance successful. Levine's careful balancing also revealed the movement's glorious organ sonorities.
The second movement was noted for its delightful exchanges between strings and winds, along with many attractive nuances that made this performance stand out. The third movement's lilting figures were attractively caught.
With the shadow of Beethoven looming large over Brahms' writing of his first symphony, any concerns of self-doubt were swept away in the finale with Brahms' main melody and its wonderful harmonization.
Levine established an inner tension that both united the orchestral sections and kept the symphony's forward motion always on target. The much anticipated brass chorale was spectacularly realized and capped off what was a truly compelling performance.
— Rick Rogers