The Oklahoma City Philharmonic's recent season finale, titled “A Globetrotter's Guide to the Orchestra,” showcased music from Germany, Russia, Australia and the United States. But this musical travelogue was more a celebration of the myriad musical timbres an orchestra can produce through different instrumental combinations.
The programming illustrated how three composers, in particular, were first-rate musical alchemists who created some of the most innovative and colorful orchestrations found in the symphonic repertoire.
Wagner's overture to “The Flying Dutchman” got off to a splendid star with solid horns on the opening fanfare, a lovely English Horn solo by Dan Schwartz and a reminder that while Wagner loved to exploit the orchestra for maximum brilliance, he could also reduce its forces to create a more intimate chamber music experience.
As Joel Levine explained to the audience before Samuel Barber's “Adagio for Strings,” this work proves “what a composer can do with inspired simplicity.” What followed was a hauntingly beautiful reading that could best be described as a sculpture in sound. Levine paced the work well and brought shape and nuance to musical lines that left listeners fully aware that they had heard something truly magical.
Composers throughout the world have always been captivated by the infectious rhythms and perfumed atmosphere of Spain. Tchaikovsky's “Capriccio Italien” is the perfect example with its combination of jaunty rhythms and evocative melodies.
But the key to this work's success is managing the ever-shifting tempos that occur during transitions between sections. In each case, Levine did a masterful job and the musicians responded with assurance and flair. Kudos also to the woodwinds for their fine contributions.
Paul Terracini's “Gegensatze” allowed the orchestral brass section to flex its collective musical muscles in a 2011 work that incorporated trumpet trills, low brass punctuations, jazzy elements and brass roulades that lived up to the work's translation: “Contrasts.”
Christopher Rouse's 1976 “Ogoun Badagris,” a musical depiction of a Haitian voodoo ritual, was an incessantly rhythmic feature for the percussion section that combined such unusual sounds as a lion's roar, brake drums, cowbells, log drums and 20 additional instruments that were struck, scraped or rattled. It was a visceral experience that won't soon be forgotten.
Richard Strauss' suite to “Der Rosenkavalier” served as the concert's finale, a setting that surveys some of the opera's most beautiful passages. This is music that is kaleidoscopic in its variety, whether in terms of orchestral color, texture, dynamics or orchestration.
Concertmaster Gregory Lee's featured solo unfolded beautifully while the work's many swirling waltz passages deftly captured the spirit of the Viennese. With “Rosenkavalier,” Strauss always left the listener with a sense of anticipation, a quality that keeps this music endlessly fascinating more than a century after it was composed.
Light and shadow created a marvelous atmosphere in music that constantly challenged the musicians. They responded with a masterful performance that not only capped off this international tour, but also a richly varied season filled with many memorable highlights. It sets the bar high for the orchestra's upcoming 25th anniversary season.
— Rick Rogers