Matthew Halls - Live Review - Oregon Festival - Oregon Music News

Halls leads superb Handel concert but Rilling's Beethoven is bewildering


Oregon Bach Festival's president John Evans has mentioned that the young and upcoming conductor Matthew Halls is on the festival's short list, and that's a good thing, because Halls directed an outstanding performance of Handel's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day while the festival's renown founder, Helmut Rilling, gave an incomprehensible account of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the festival's final concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday, July 14th.

Rilling, who turned 78 a couple of month ago, must have had another piece on his mind, because from the outset of the Beethoven, he rushed through many passages as if he was going to miss the bus back to Eugene. Dynamics, articulation, cutoffs, and all sorts of phrases had no shape. Things really got out of whack in the third movement after the principal French horn flubbed his solo and Rilling went into a faster and faster tempo. This caused the strings to be out of step with the rest of the orchestra, but somehow the musicians were able to sync up by the end of the movement. The fourth movement also lacked nuances that would've made it interesting. Instead, the orchestra seemed to play under duress, and the soloists (soprano Tamara Wilson, alto Anja Schlosser, tenor Thomas Cooley, and baritone Christophere Nomura) sounded tight. The Berwick Chorus of the Oregon Bach Festival, augmented by the singers of the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, and the orchestra held things together. Strangely enough, Rilling chose to do the final part of the Ode to Joy at a slow pace, which really diluted a lot of the excitement that this piece can generate. The audience reacted with good helpings of applause which transitioned into a standing ovation, but it all seemed hollow.

In stark contrast, Halls led the Handel piece with crisp stickwork that resulted in a thoroughly engaging performance. The chamber orchestra - with superb solos by cellist Tanya Tomkins and trumpeter Guy Few - created lush chords, lively dances, militant marches and all sorts of sounds with that Handel wrote in order to celebrate St. Cecilia, patron of music. Soloist Robin Johannsen's brilliant and supple soprano rang out marvelously, and tenor James Taylor sang with great sensitivity (although his brief introductory passage needed more volume). The Berwick Chorus of the OBF turned in a finely honed and blended performance as well.  The combined forces, under Halls, made this Handel performance the highlight of the evening, and it also gave the audience a tantalizing idea of what this young conductor might be able to do if he is selected as Rilling's successor.

Oregon Music News
13 July 2011