Colorado Music Festival gets off to a festive beginning

First concert has everything you could want for opening night

By Peter Alexander June 28 at 12:25 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival got off to a genuinely festive start last night (June 27).

CMF - Oundjian - credit Michael Quam EDIT

CMF Festival Orchestra—photo by Michael Quam

The opening night concert, conducted by Peter Oundjian with pianist Natasha Paremski as soloist, had everything you could want for opening night: spectacular orchestral fireworks, a virtuosic concerto with a virtuoso soloist, and not one but two exciting overtures.

PeterOundjian-1

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

To judge by the performance, Oundjian is not afraid to let loose the horses—meaning the impressively solid and forceful brass section of the CMF Festival Orchestra—when called for. More on that later, but the entire orchestra made a very strong impression. Let us hope that Oundjian has steadied the festival after several awkward transitions, and will carry CMF forward on a consistent and high artistic level.

The program, which will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight (June 28) in the Chautauqua Auditorium, began with a clean, solid performance of Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont. Oundjian paced the performance well, bringing out the contrasts of dynamics and tempo leading to a powerful “Victory Symphony” to end the overture.

Egmont’s presence on the program reflects the summer’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to the Future,” wherein many of the concerts will include a work by Beethoven, and then pieces that in some way reflect Beethoven’s foreshadowing of later musical developments.

The meaning of that theme was best described by Oundjian in his remarks at the concert. It’s not that Beethoven directly influenced every composer that came after him; rather, he said, “Beethoven gave license to future composers” to follow their inspiration in unexpected directions.

The short overture was followed by a very long break while the piano was brought on stage and chairs repositioned for Paremski and the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. The break was too long; however awkward it might look, I would prefer to have the piano onstage during the overture, with the lid down, than to have so much dead time between pieces.

As a great and much-loved Romantic concerto, the Rachmaninoff Second fit this program’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism.” Paremski played with an appropriately big sound without crossing into an abrasive tone quality, and from the very beginning was in total command of the score. Oundjian brought out the surging orchestral climaxes, although there were moments when the pianist’s efforts were more seen than heard.

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Natasha Paremski

Best of all was the second movement, especially the chamber-like passages, including some lovely woodwind solos that are essentially accompanied by rippling arpeggios in the piano. All the shifting moods of the Romantic palette were effectively expressed in this movement, and Paremski’s fleet passagework and sparkling trills were the icing on a very fine cake.

The finale was impressive from pianist and orchestra, fast, exciting and well controlled. Once again the CMF horses came blazing out of the corral, this time without obscuring the soloist, and the brilliant ending garnered the expected ovation.

After intermission, the orchestra returned for the Overture to Verdi’s melodramatic opera La forza del destino (The force of destiny). Oundjian steered the orchestra successfully through the overture’s many shifting moods. All the drama, pathos and nervous energy of the highly episodic piece were present and well expressed. This overture is not often heard in the concert hall, so it was a real pleasure to hear it so well performed by Oundjian and the CMF players.

Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which ended the concert, is the perfect piece to show off the Festival Orchestra’s strengths. The scintillating first movement (Pines of the Villa Borghese) was a brilliant explosion of orchestral colors. The second and third movements (portraying pines near a catacomb and on the Janiculum, respectively) featured beautiful solo wind playing—a haunting, lyrical trumpet in the second, a delicate and utterly exposed clarinet, along with flute, and oboe plus a solo cello in the third.

But it is the final movement, the grand and forceful crescendo of the Pines of the Appian Way, portraying the inexorable advance of a Roman Legion, that everyone remembers from Respighi’s colorful score. Here it was relentless and loud and utterly exciting—just what is wanted to start a season. You have one more chance to hear this program: don’t miss it.

Tickets to tonight’s concert are available through the Chautauqua Box Office.

 

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