The Portland Symphony Orchestra performs its final concert of the season, featuring Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra concluded its classical music season with a powerful flourish on Tuesday night before a large and appreciative audience at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Offering what Music Director and Conductor Eckart Preu called one of his “top five” favorite symphonies, the members of the orchestra followed his highly animated direction into a full-out performance of the Fourth Symphony of Johannes Brahms to close the season on a very strong note.

Though the work, Brahms’ last in the form, has its moments of delicate reflection, it was hard not to focus on recollections of the majestic thunder of the piece as one walked out into the cool night after experiencing the four-movement work’s many thrills and chills. It was clear, as the obviously spent conductor took his final bow along with the orchestra at the close, that Preu wanted it that way.

Though Gustav Mahler would later come along with a few forceful final musical comments on the genre, this piece from 1885 seemed intent, at least as interpreted in this PSO performance, in wanting to give “serious” post-Beethoven orchestral music a final reach toward greatness (ironically, perhaps, with a nod toward Bach in the finale).

The work that preceded the Brahms symphony in the program was by a composer who, though he is not heard often enough in these parts, was no slouch in his time and has been venerated ever since.

A performance of Concerto No. 24 for Piano and Orchestra by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart featured guest Alon Goldstein at the keyboard, fronting a smaller edition of the orchestra.


The rare minor key work featured the heavenly melodies and symmetries typical of the amazing 18th century master. But there was also an intensity of purpose and increased pairing of the orchestral voices, which Goldstein noted in his brief remarks upon taking the stage, which would go on to attract the attention of both Beethoven and Brahms.

The pianism was spirited, reminding one that there’s nothing like a bit of well-played Mozart to lift the spirits, even when hearing a supposed “darker” piece.

As an encore, Goldstein brought things into a more recent vintage with an early jazz-inflected solo performance derived from Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety.” More joyful than anxious, the piece delighted under the pianist’s fleet fingers, adding a welcome bit of bounce to the proceedings.

The evening began with a performance of “Pulse,” a brief contemporary work composed by Brian Nabors. Defined by the composer as an “episodic rhapsody,” the piece seemed most like a film overture, alternating moods but generally leaning toward a gentle, playful sense of continuing adventures in sound to come. The PSO rose to the task, as it did with the more recognizable and perhaps more exacting works (though Nabors threw some curves) that followed.

It was a memorable evening that boded well for further encounters with the PSO in its classical seasons to come.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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