The Curtis Symphony Orchestra performance at Verizon Hall on Sunday was one of the few un-canceled events of the weekend and Verizon was 85 % full despite the snowstorm or it being Super Bowl weekend. The payoff was instant in CSO’s mighty strings recalibrating that hall right off the bat for Vaughn- Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
That deMillian theme might be the hook but conductor Robert Spano, a Curtis alum, doesn’t get lost only in its transcendent power, he brings angularity and deeply etched accents to the mis en scenes. All of the soloists are standouts while maintaining the whole and none more beautiful than Vicky Powell’s viola. Her tone and phrasing just moved the molecules in the body. That famous theme does come gushing forth not as a wall of sound, but an oscillating field that engulfs everyone in its path.
The afterburn didn’t distract from the brazen jaggedness of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, the Winterreise brought to magnificent dimension by visiting Philadelphia Orchestra principal hornist Jennifer Montone (wearing a gorgeous violet and black raw silk flamenco gown, with a ruffled slit up the leg).
Penderecki’s dramatic display of technique and exploration into the character of the instrument, with lines you don’t expect from the French Horn- not just in abstracted fanfares, but yearning in the voicing. Then there are those roulade runs and tonal spikes.
A horn hunt did commence in the back half, Montone chasing down an orchestral tempest. She shoves her fist in the mouth of the instrument and it sounds like a solemn Miles Davis riff, a wooden cone leads to eerie atmospherics of the strings, pierced and obliterated by her heralds. Brilliant playing and as on so many other occasions the CSO is triumphant.