a wolff in swan’s clothing – part I

compared to the titanic mahler 6 from two weeks ago, last night’s lean and clean symphony from papa haydn was practically chamber music.  (which sure as hell ain’t a bad thing.)  yep: franz joseph’s good ol’ number eighty-two is one of the earliest works the oregon symphony will play this season, and the band dutifully transformed itself into an elite force of classical technicians for the occasion.  buzzing with exposed skill, the schnitzer stage hummed along in perpetual motion through a delightfully tight network of melodic lines.  [yowza!]  although #94 bears the official nickname, i swear to god every symphony by haydn could be accurately called a “surprise” – and last night’s composition was no exception.  banging away on a smallish pair of old-school kettledrums, birthday boy jon “animal” greeney helped propel his comrades to a fun finish furnished with droning bagpipe basses, playful volume control, and unpredictable key changes.  viva la papa!  viva la papa!

antonín dvořák’s one and only piano concerto is so rare… [how rare is it?!]  um, it’s so rare the last time our oregon symphony performed it was over 22 years ago!  (compare that to Beethoven’s concerto #5 which we heard in 2010 ~ and we’ll hear it again later this season.)  having the good sense that pdx was long overdue for a reprise of dvořák’s rarity, *martin helmchen flew in from berlin to give us a taste of what we were missing.  unlike most other 19th-century concertos, uncle antonín discarded the prevailing piano vs. orchestra mentality and composed a truly collaborative piece of symphonic music that just happens to feature a giant-ass steinway front and center.  like a figure skater performing a perfect string of triple salchows by candlelight, mr. helmchen’s digital skillz were often blurred beneath the band’s overpowering symphonic shadow.  until the third movement, the beavs thought joe berger’s horn was the star of the program’s first half.  ah, but then an assertive piano kicked off the finale and it was clear whose name was on the schnitzer marquee.  with a dark, curly mop of hair bobbing above and a pair of black coat tails fluttering below, herr helmchen layed out some exquisitely wicked technique, his fingers dancing along the keyboard with slavonic joy and brutal virtuosity.  oh, yes.  viva la martin!  viva la martin!

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