IOWA CITY — The music of Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony provided a showcase for Orchestra Iowa at Saturday evening’s concert at Iowa City West High School.
Under the direction of Maestro Tim Hankewich, the orchestra delivered a bravura performance worthy of the concert’s sponsorship by The Bruckner Society of America. The latter organization, formed in 1931, has promoted the music and life of Bruckner.
The Austrian composer’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major is his only symphony that opens with a slow introduction, begun by basses and cellos playing a pizzicato “walking baseline.” Other instruments make their entrance with a hushed, slow hymn-like contrapuntal theme.
The brass fanfare that follows tends to come as a surprise, but is quite effective as Bruckner uses it to break into an expected Allegro. While solo flute and clarinet slow the momentum for a time, the music quickly moves into a rousing coda for full orchestra that concludes the movement.
The second movement, or Adagio, offers two broad melodies introduced by a solo oboe accompanied by the pizzicato “walking baseline” as in the opening movement. Bruckner uses the same melodies three times with slight variations and embellishments in the orchestration.
The third movement or Scherzo opens with the same bass movement as the Adagio, but with bowed strings instead of plucked strings. Bruckner inorporates a number of contrasting melodies, creating a musical tug-of-war between breathless takeoff and courtly minuet, with the latter triumphing in the end.
The Finale combines many of the melodies and structures of the first three movements. The woodwinds and strings are used to great effect, but the brass has an opportunity to take charge and bring the symphony to a climax with a chorale melody, a tribute to Bruckner’s idol, Richard Wagner.
Kudos are in order for Orchestra Iowa’s brass section, which has risen to a new level in recent years. The strings and woodwinds also were superb Saturday, exhibiting an intensity that is refreshing and exhilarating for the audience.