nicholas carter

Oregon Symphony review: Study in contrasts

Oregon Symphony, guest conductor Nicholas Carter, and Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin collaborate in an exhilarating ride from the heroic to the monumental

 by TERRY ROSS

“Since Beethoven’s time all so-called symphonies, with the exception of those by Brahms, have been symphonic poems. In some cases the composers have given us a program or have at least suggested what they had in mind; in other cases it is evident that they were concerned with describing or illustrating something, be it a landscape or a series of pictures. That does not correspond to my symphonic ideal.” — Jean Sibelius.

Marc-André Hamelin played Rachmaninov with the Oregon Symphony.

Marc-André Hamelin played Rachmaninov with the Oregon Symphony.

Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3, the Finnish composer’s shortest and least monumental, was ahead of its time in 1907. Amidst a sonic landscape filled with the likes of Mahler and Richard Strauss, played by increasingly huge orchestras, Sibelius confounded even some of his most ardent supporters, who had expected more of the lush, Romantic sounds that had characterized his first two symphonies. In contrast to both his previous efforts and those of other leading orchestral composers of the era, he made a conscious effort to step away from the programmatic tendency he wrote about at the time.

Sibelius’s Third, which the Oregon Symphony performed at their sold-out Sunday matinee performance on October 9 using a pared-down orchestra of 58 players and running to 29 minutes, is therefore “pure music.” Like the symphonies of Mozart or Haydn, it relies on its classical structure and inner relationships for any abstract “meaning.” In all three movements, the composer gets great mileage out of small choirs of similar instruments (woodwinds, horns, cellos plus double basses) poised against the body of the orchestra. But it is the haunting second movement Andantino, with its recurring melody in six beats — now divided into three, now into two — that makes this symphony unforgettable. Australian conductor Nicholas Carter brought out all this movement’s beauty in admirably understated fashion.

Continues…