October 1st, 2007 5:33 pm | by Stephen Marc Beaudoin News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

A Hypnotist-Induced Haze of Pianism


“You will begin to write your concerto… You will work with great facility… The concerto will be of excellent quality...”

If a hypnotist whispered such suggestive things to you – half-asleep, perched perhaps on an antique chaise – what sort of music could result?

Amazingly, it helped to coax a second piano concerto out of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, then in a knee-deep depressive funk. And on Sunday night with the Oregon Symphony and Music Director Carlos Kalmar on the podium, Ukranian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa offered an appropriately dreamy performance of the concerto that suggested both the hazy screen of depression and yearning sensuality of the work.

The Piano Concerto no. 2 in c minor spins out yards of string-soupy Rach-tunes, in the well-worn Adagio Sostenuto movement especially. A favorite device of the composer: those moments where a rainbow-long theme in the orchestra dissolves into a spray of solo piano-mist. Very affecting.

Lisitsa, a stringy blonde in a too-bulky teal gown, delivered enough of the necessary goods – fleet, secure passage work, limpid tone, bipolar dynamic effects – but not much more than. And her tone evaporated, oddly, at several crucial moments (was it the hall? Was it the instrument? Was it Lisitsa?) She also, for a work so passionate, hid it well behind a stoic poker face and sat stock-still when not playing her solo passages. Kalmar met his soloist at each hyper-Romantic U-turn, and so did the orchestra, which played for keeps, but did it well.

Dvorak's Symphonic Variations, composed only two decades earlier than the Rach, are attractive technical painting exercises: how does this orchestral color work with that?, does two flutes plus four horns equal chartreuse? (with Dvorak, it does) The 27 variations on the composer's own tune are, at their best, jaunty odd-angled hoedowns. This is a good thing, because as a conductor, Kalmar is a terrific dancer. More vibrant and attractive playing from the orchestra here, from second season principal flute David Buck especially, and plangent soloing from the Symphony's fresh-faced new concertmaster, 25-year-old Jun Iwasaki.

Plenty of balls-out playing in Stanley Kubrick's – err, Richard Strauss'Also sprach Zarathustra, all electricity and life. Iwasaki really dug in and even came up from his chair a bit, but his section didn't stand a chance against the cut and thrust of the Symphony brass. Kalmar lined it up well – a lithe “Dance Song,” a hollow “Grave Song” – but the ending came up short: the feeling was right, but the tuning was pretty wrong.

(photo above: pianist Valentina Lisitsa, courtesy of The Oregon Symphony)
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