Guest leads PSO to heavenly peaks

09. Mar. 2011 – Eckart Preu is one of the finest guest conductors to lead the Portland Symphony Orchestra in recent memory, as witnessed by two standing ovations from a capacity crowd at Merrill Auditorium on Tuesday.

WHEN: March 8
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, Portland

Preu was able to switch from a favorite lollipop, the Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin in E Minor (Opus 64), to the monster Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major of Anton Bruckner without missing a beat. Both performances were equally enjoyable, in totally different ways.

The Mendelssohn demonstrated a nice, in the sense of "exact," combination. The young violinist Tai Murray has a fantastic technique and a way with extremely high notes and cadenzas, but she does not have a "big" sound. After a few bars, Preu was able to adjust the orchestral forces into perfect balance with the soloist.

The result was a delicate, jewel-like reading of the score, which brought out some of the beauties often hidden behind bravura. Murray took several well-deserved curtain calls.

What does one say about Bruckner's "Romantic" symphony? One critic called it an hour and a half of coitus interruptus, which is psychologically quite apt. It is like the drive out Canada's Gaspe Peninsula to the Forillon National Park -- go through village, climb mountain, drive 20 miles along the shore and repeat, ad infinitum. Except that Bruckner has many more mountain peaks on which one is deprived of resolution.

But what mountain peaks they are! There are huge masses of sound, with some of the most satisfying orchestral harmonies ever written, which make the lack of resolution all the more frustrating. Bruckner treats the orchestra as a huge pipe organ, and in his delight in this great instrument, attempts to wring every shred of power out if it. The contrasts between sections at full power, such as strings versus 76 trombones (Preu's analogy; it only seemed like that) are incredible.

Bruckner's debt to Wagner and Beethoven has been remarked upon many times, but his music also has echoes of Schubert, in sonority and in the use of German landler in the interludes between thunder and lightning.

Mahler loved Bruckner, and seems to have lifted this symphony's funeral march almost verbatim.

Both orchestra and conductor gave the score everything they had. The Austrian schoolteacher's fantastic music could not have been rendered better, or with greater good humor. The final sound mountain seemed more like the Elysian Fields, a good place to be stuck forever.

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