Saturday evening’s concert at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre was a supreme spectacle in the performance of classical masterpieces, and a bittersweet adieu from celebrated Orlando Philharmonic Music Director Christopher Wilkins, as he prepares to make his exit at the end of the current season.
Although Wilkins is coming back for performances of La Traviata next month, this marked his last concert in the Super Series, highlighting warhorses of the classical repertoire. His reading of Sibelius, elegant in character and poignantly passionate, saw the conductor-orchestra affinity elevated to near perfection. From the opening measures of Finlandia, an incandescent orchestral delight that expresses in less than 10 minutes more than 10,000 words could ever say, Wilkins’ reading exuded dignity and radiance.
The foreboding of the opening trombones, seemingly depicting the state of oppression to which the Finnish people were subjected by the Russian Empire, is responded by serene woodwinds and somber strings. The balanced execution of each episode was ecstatic, with the rising action culminating in the moving hymn-like melody of the piece. Wilkins and the orchestra performed the piece with emotional resonance, especially by accentuating the crescendos and other subtleties in dynamics and fluctuations of tempo that give the piece its musicality and sense of aesthetic. Such a thoughtful rendering is what makes the difference between the composer’s notes on the page and the realization of his vision.
The Brahms violin concerto is a brilliant exercise in orchestration and interplay between soloist and orchestra. Rising for the occasion was virtuoso Elmar Oliveira, a winner of the Gold Medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition. Oliveira’s dexterity and sensitive approach made him an excellent match for the technical demands of the concerto. After the orchestral introduction, his entrance was firm and his performance calculated. The interplay between ensemble and soloist during the extended first movement, carefully controlled by Wilkins and the attentive orchestra, rose up to the cadenza. Dazzling with double-stops and swift melodic runs on the fingerboard, Oliveira showed off his technical brilliance.
The soothing main melody of the second movement was played touchingly by Principal Oboe Jamie Strefeler, and soon joined by the soloist. Oliveira approached the opening melody of the bouncy finale with accentuated staccato. Always a strong point of OPO performances of Romantic music, Carl Rendek’s timpani added much to the sound tapestry and carried the pace throughout the movement to its energetic close.
Wilkins’ introductory remarks to Sibelius’ majestic second symphony highlighted his appreciation of the orchestra and the important place it holds in the community of music appreciators in Central Florida. His choice of the symphony as a vehicle for the OPO resulted in a resplendent rendition of the piece, and indeed showed off all instrumental families of the ensemble and the conductor’s own flair for the music of this period.
With the score committed to memory and an intimate connection with the orchestra that has grown over his last eight years of service, Wilkins approached the piece with careful consideration for phrasing and the juxtaposition of melodic voices that stand out and intermingle throughout the piece. The opening measures of the first movement lay out much of the substance of the whole symphony. The preponderance of woodwinds was given its due consideration, and the brass section, including tuba, added thunderous blares that characterize Sibelius.
The uninterrupted flow from the breakneck tempo of the vivacissimo to the Olympian opening melody of the finale was worthy of admiration. Wilkins was most expressive in his cues to the orchestra, with full arms gestures, to which the orchestra responded with sweeps in the strings and sharp trumpets, among others. The waning of the pace to the more subdued middle section was well executed and equally offset by the rising swell to the second appearance of the majestic opening melody. With strings in full throttle, accompanied by timpani and mellifluous brass, the perfect execution was a truly inspiring moment. With a closing gesture, Wilkins brought to an end what was one of the finest performances the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra has given to the people of Central Florida. Unrelenting applause brought out the distinguished maestro two more times; the audience’s appreciation for his service and for the new heights to which he took the OPO over his tenure was evident. He will be missed.
To visit the Orlando Phil’s website and learn about upcoming performances, click here.
To visit Elmar Oliveira’s website, click here.
To read reviews of previous Orlando Phil performances, click here.