Fulfillment reached in finale of the Ninth

  • Jul 13, 2011
[caption id="attachment_5833" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Helmuth Rilling, Tamara Wilson, Anja Schlosser, Tom Cooley, Christopheren Nomura"][/caption] From the Eugene Register-Guard Wednesday, July 13 By John Farnworth The Oregon Bach Festival’s 42nd season closed on Sunday afternoon in the Hult Center’s Silva Hall with a stirring performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Major, the “Choral Symphony,” conducted by the festival’s founding artistic director, Helmuth Rilling. Expectations ran high that this was to be an exciting and memorable event. So it was a disappointment to me that the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, although technically well played, lacked the punch and verve that I have heard, and come to expect, in other performances, both live and recorded. There was an absence of the forward-driving urgency that should mark this introductory movement, at least in the first two-thirds of it. Things began to improve with the astonishing, lengthy coda, and at the end of the movement the basses initiated a stunning crescendo to the final fortissimo recapitulation of the first theme. Things improved dramatically with the second movement, a scherzo marked Molto vivace-Presto. A terrific surging start in the strings and timpani led into an exciting, tense, driving exuberance exuding from some magnificent playing by Mark Goodenberger on kettledrums and screaming first and second violins, while violas, cellos and basses added their mellifluous silken sounds. The movement was extremely well played throughout, ending with a stunning, abrupt cadence which brought some chuckles from the full house audience. The third movement, Adagio molto e cantabile, was played elegantly, silkily, dreamily, as it should be. The woodwinds — flutes, piccolo, oboes, clarinets and bassoons — have a prominent role in this piece, and they performed exquisitely. The French horns also made important contributions, though, oddly, Rilling seemed not to give them much attention. With the fourth and final movement, Presto-Allegro ma non troppo (etc.), the performance reached its magnificent fulfillment. After briefly revisiting, and rejecting, the main themes of the first three movements, a great crash of percussion and brass introduced the cellos and basses who launched into the main theme and its variations. The cellos, basses and woodwinds dominated this part of the exposition with their riveting dialogue, the bassoons contributing a dazzling display of virtuosity. A warlike outburst from the orchestra led into baritone Christopheren Nomura’s mellifluous, but not particularly powerful, “O Freunde.” He was soon joined by the magnificent 80-plus voiced chorus that is a blending of singers from the Oregon Bach Festival chorus and the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela. This amazing chorus, which knocked my socks off in the Brahms Requiem two weeks ago, proved that its previous performance was no fluke. This is, quite simply, an extraordinary chorus, among the best I have heard anywhere. Again, high accolades to chorus masters Kathy Romey and Maria Guinand. The last eight minutes of the symphony was a high-tensioned, fast-moving drama of sound, with chorus and orchestra sharing equally in the almost unbearable dynamics involved. The final crashing sounds had not finished resonating before the audience rose to its feet in tumultuous applause. There were numerous curtain calls, and Rilling had a grin on his face as wide as Beethoven’s Ninth! Altogether, a joyful and fitting close to the festival. John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.