Colin Currie makes spectacular local debut

02.05.13
Colin Currie
News OK

By Rick Rogers

There's nothing quite like the visceral, sonic impact of a symphony orchestra operating at full tilt. Yes, a shimmering pianissimo can be truly sublime, but when you combine dynamic strings, whirling woodwinds, roaring brass and thundering percussion, it's a musical feast for the ears that quite honestly takes one's breath away.

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic's recent “Motion & Emotion” concert offered an entire program filled with such passages: A celebratory fanfare, a masterful concerto and excerpts from one of the symphonic literature's most beautiful ballet scores.

The orchestra's brass and percussion sections kicked off the evening with Aaron Copland's stirring “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The title is misleading as this is no ordinary curtain raiser. Explosive percussion ushers in this three-minute fanfare, one followed by majestic declamations by the brass in ever-changing combinations.

The work's extreme ranges and exposed textures revealed a few minor flaws but this is a work whose success must be measured on its cumulative effect, and this tribute to the American spirit got the evening off to a resounding start.

Scottish percussionist Colin Currie made his Oklahoma City Philharmonic debut in the state premiere of Jennifer Higdon's 2005 “Percussion Concerto.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, born in New York in 1962, created a masterful showpiece for the work's dedicatee.

Currie has been a passionate advocate for this concerto, a work that asks the soloist to perform on 17 instruments, from tuned percussion (marimba, vibraphone, crotales) to various drums (bass, tom-toms, timbales, bongos) and assorted incidentals (gong, temple blocks, cymbals) that create a musical palette of tremendous aural variety.

Currie is a masterful performer whose finest attributes — confidence, flexibility, musical intelligence and dazzling virtuosity — combined to give this stunningly complex concerto an irresistible immediacy. It's a display piece for certain, but Currie made it into much more.

Whether in the hushed tremolos of the marimba, the metallic passagework of the vibraphone, the clatter of the temple blocks or the explosive poundings of the timbales and tom-toms, Currie wove these disparate elements into a dramatic piece with remarkable finesse.

The orchestra's percussion section — Dave Steffens, Lance Drege, Roger Owens and Stuart Langsam — performed their equally critical role in this concerto's success through precise and colorful exchanges with the soloist. Joel Levine kept taut reins over the proceedings which culminated in a spectacular performance.

 

The evening's finale, Tchaikovsky's suite from “Swan Lake,” which Levine bookended with a prologue and dramatic finale, served as a sort of prelude for the Oklahoma City Ballet's April staging of the full-length ballet.

 

Levine carefully shaped the work with remarkable taste and musical understanding. There were lovely solos by oboist Lisa Harvey-Reed, harpist Gaye LeBlanc, cellist Jonathan Ruck and concertmaster Gregory Lee.

Levine's expert pacing and balancing of the orchestral sections through an ever-changing panorama of waltzes and nationalistic dances reminded listeners of this orchestra's remarkable virtuosic capabilities. It's a concert that won't soon be forgotten.