A Different View

04.26.18
Emmanuel Villaume, Andrew von Oeyen
Theater Jones

There was an air of anticipation filling the Winspear Opera House on Sunday afternoon. However, it was not the same as was experienced for the opening the Dallas Opera’s production of Don Giovanni. Then, it was about seeing the performance of the understudy for the title role, Craig Verm, who took over for Mariusz Kwiecien, one of the great purveyors of the title role, who had to cancel for opening night due to illness. History was made. Verm was amazing and, by the end of the performance, he rocketed to the top of the list of the opera world’s great Giovannis. (He sings it again on Friday, if you want to join in on the discovery.)

Sunday’s anticipation was about something completely different. This was a concert by a locally unknown pianist, Andrew von Oeyen, playing a much-loved piano concerto, Rachmaninoff’s third, with The Dallas Opera Orchestra, risen from the pit to the stage and under Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 for an opener. The result was easily as spectacular a success as Verm’s. It was a superlative concert, immediately jumping to my favorite performances of the year, and earned the spontaneous standing ovation and shouts of “bravo” delivered by the audience.

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Another thing about the performance that stood out was the mind meld between Villaume and von Oeyen. They have played the concerto a number of times together in the past and they have obviously discussed and made decisions about every note and phrase. As a result, the performance was filled with wonderfully romantic rubato: little ritards and accelerandi with artistically arched phrases that would normally be impossible with a symphony conductor and pianist that only had the usual scant couple of rehearsals squeezed into a full symphony season.
Every bit of rubato was played precisely together and conductor and pianist were in constant visual communications, rather than on separate planets. As a result, we heard a very different concept of the concerto, with passages, that are usually buried in the blare, brought out carefully. These details are rarely heard, but they are there in the composer’s masterful writing for both the orchestra and piano.

The orchestra sounded wonderful, with distinguished solos by the principal winds, horns and brass. The strings sounded full and robust despite their reduced numbers. The ensemble and balance were excellent, thanks to Villaume’s compact, expressive and precise, but baton-less, conducting.

The overriding impression of the entire concert was its remarkable clarity, combined with technical mastery, as well as being conceptually unique. On returning home, memories of the performance of both the Beethoven and the Rachmaninoff sent me back to the scores to make notations of the many revelations garnered by this brilliant and thoughtful approach to two masterpieces that I thought I knew quite well. 

Read the rest of the review here