Orchestral concert walks a familiar line
By Terry McQuilkin
For The Register-Guard
Published: Wednesday, July 4, 2007
For the first all-orchestral concert of this year's Oregon Bach Festival, audience members in a nearly full Silva Hall heard stellar performances Sunday of masterpieces by J.S. Bach and W.A. Mozart. In many ways, this concert illustrated what is inspired about this festival, and at the same time what has come to be workaday.
Agreed, the music-making is world class. But if we take this year's festival motto, "Outside the Bachs," to mean not only "composers besides Bach," but also programming that pushes the envelope, it isn't particularly apt. Sure, the '07 festival features works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Arthur Honegger, a trio of Russian folk musicians and jazzed-up Bach. But it also offers a lot of the tried and true.
All of the works on Sunday's concert - a program dubbed "Bach and Family" - have been heard in previous festivals. The "family" sobriquet referred not to members of Johann Sebastian Bach's family, but to the Oregon Bach Festival "family": Four members of this summer's orchestra were featured in solo roles.
For two of the soloists, the family connection is decidedly strong: Violinist Rahel Rilling and violist Sara Rilling are not only principal players in the Festival Orchestra, but also the daughters of the festival's artistic director, Helmuth Rilling. Following intermission, the three Rillings teamed up with the orchestra to offer Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K.364.
Rahel's violin rang with a clear and radiant sound, balanced nicely with the ensemble. From the side of the hall's orchestra section, however, I often caught myself straining to hear the viola; I found Sara's delivery somewhat reticent and her tone lacking in body and carrying power.
I didn't experience much difficulty hearing the violist in the slow middle movement, however, where the orchestral accompaniment is light, and the two sisters were able to shine in several duet passages. Indeed, the two played with warmth and great expressivity, with the orchestra accompanying sensitively.
Allan Vogel, who has been a part of the Bach Festival "family" for as long as I can remember, opened the program with Bach's Oboe d'amore Concerto in A, BWV 1055. This concerto, a reconstruction by Wilfried Fischer of a harpsichord concerto, probably was conceived by Bach originally for this underappreciated instrument, pitched halfway between the oboe and English horn. It's a wonderful work, and Vogel delivered it with poise and elan. Rilling and an ensemble of 21 players offered precise and energetic accompaniment.
Bach's Concerto in D Minor for two violins and orchestra, BWV 1043, with Rahel Rilling and Elizabeth Baker (another orchestral principal) as soloists, followed. Both violinists played with style, polish and accuracy, and once again Helmuth Rilling and the members of his orchestra proved to be fine collaborators. The deservedly famous slow movement offered the soloists an avenue for lyrical expressivity, and here they did not disappoint.
The concert concluded with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter"). A propulsive sense of motion and clarity of texture characterized this performance, and the symphony's finale is where these traits were most evident.
Mozart's genius as a master of counterpoint can be overlooked, but the composer's valedictory symphony movement puts that oversight to rest, especially in the brilliant, five-part counterpoint of the coda, delivered by Rilling and company with transparency and unrelenting drive.
Before the concert, John Evans, who assumes the post of executive director at the conclusion of this year's festival, welcomed the audience and delivered the essential "turn off your cell phones" admonition with charm and good humor.
Of course, grander challenges await the new boss, and we look forward to seeing what new ideas he brings to the 38-year-old festival.
Terry McQuilkin, an adjunct instructor of composition at the University of Oregon, reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.