Risen from the pit, Dallas Opera Orchestra impresses with Villaume, von Oeyen

04.23.18
Emmanuel Villaume, Andrew von Oeyen
Texas Classical Review

The Dallas Opera Orchestra, the heard-but-not-seen ensemble that accompanies everything from established standards to world premieres for the Dallas Opera, came out of the pit and onto the stage Sunday. The concert program  offered a pair of favorites by Beethoven and Rachmaninoff with the company’s music director Emmanuel Villaume and guest pianist Andrew von Oeyen at Winspear Opera House.

This is not the first time Villaume has taken this orchestra above the pit; earlier this year, they were onstage together for a series of performances of Korngold’s Violin Concerto with French violinist Augustin Dumay as a preface to Korngold’s one-act The Ring of Polykrates. They had likewise appeared onstage in April 2016 for a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13.

Conductor Villaume offered a cheerful pre-concert comment and rationale, explaining that performing in concert expanded the orchestra’s breadth, and made it a more efficient pit ensemble. The performance that ensued demonstrated that, under Villaume’s guidance, the orchestra has much to offer as a concert band in its own right.

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Pianist von Oeyen joined Villaume and the orchestra after intermission—and at the opposite end of the romantic era—for the famously passionate and infamously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 of Rachmaninoff.
Even in that deceptively serene opening passage, von Oeyen and Villaume shared an irresistible intensity created via carefully shaped phrasing and dynamic give-and-take and fairly pronounced rubato. The close musical partnership brought to mind the similar interplay between great conductors and great singers in the operatic works of Rachmaninoff’s contemporary Puccini.

Along with his flawless technique on the keyboard, von Oeyen used damper pedal imaginatively and effectively throughout—sometimes strikingly, as with the light cloud he brushed across the descending arpeggio leading into the final cadenza of the first movement.

He likewise demonstrated and pointed up the sometimes overlooked underlying baroque counterpoint typical of Rachmaninoff’s orchestral scores, finding the scraps of fugues and other contrapuntal devices lurking within his rich romantic textures.

Together, conductor and pianist created the inexorable tidal pull of the final movement, landing on the cathartic final phrase with that combination of surprise and inevitability—in this performance, tinged with elegance—that this concerto evokes when all elements are in place. 

Read the rest of the review here