After 41 years as a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, principal oboe Basil Reeve made his final solo appearance this weekend at Orchestra Hall.
Over the years, he has been featured in concertos from the Baroque to the contemporary. Retiring at the end of this season, Reeve ended his tenure with the North American premiere of the Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra by Michael Berkeley, a contemporary British composer and godson of Benjamin Britten.
The concerto showcased the oboe against the strings. It is not virtuosic (although the cadenza in the first movement was challenging), but still technically demanding, with Reeve frequently playing at the top of the oboe's register. The rhapsodic end of the movement was breathtaking, with the oboe creating a real sense of mystery.
The playful scherzo gave Reeve a chance to shape sweeping lyrical melodies. Conductor Mark Wigglesworth led a vigorous performance that framed Reeve well. So enjoyable was the collaboration that the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the end of the movement.
The final movement, an elegy, was an homage to Britten, featuring music from his "War Requiem." This is music of great melancholy, and Reeve played with plaintive sound and deep emotion.
With music-making of this caliber, Reeve will be much missed.
The second half of the program was a complete performance of Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe" ballet. Commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes in Paris, it premiered in 1909, just two years before Diaghilev premiered Stravinsky's "Petrushka."
The ballet tells a Greek myth in which Daphnis and Chloe fall in love, before she is kidnapped by pirates. She is rescued by the god Pan and reunited with Daphnis to general rejoicing. The Minnesota Orchestra provided surtitles that laid out the plot and allowed the audience to follow the action.
Wigglesworth led an evocative reading. From the ethereal opening to the joyous youthful dances, from broad comic antics to passionate love music to the barbarity of the pirates, the orchestra responded with a vivid performance.
The Minnesota Chorale added color to the interpretation. Their wordless vocalizations created an air of mystery, passion or savagery whenever they entered.
The performance left me longing to see a staging of the ballet -- but only with an accompaniment as strong as this one.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.