You’d think that competing in the same time slot as the annual Oscars ceremony would have severely diminished the attendance at Vancouver Symphony’s concert on Sunday night (February 26), but Skyview Concert Hall was fairly full with a large crowd. The strong turnout must have been due in part to the featured soloist, clarinetist David Shifrin, who is well-known for his work at Chamber Music Northwest, both as a performer and as its artistic director for the past 36 years. He didn’t disappoint the listeners, deftly playing the “Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra” by Carl Maria von Weber and Gioachino Rossini’s “Introduction, Theme, and Varations.” The orchestra, led by music director Salvador Brotons, rounded out the program with solid performances of works by Christoph Willibald Gluck and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
For the Weber and Rossini pieces, Shifrin brought out the cantabile style, make the melodic lines sing. His expressive artistry accented sharp contrasts in dynamics, easily diving into the softest pianissimos and ascending to bold fortes that were never too harsh. He executed wonderful tempo shifts – sometimes in mid phrase – and occasionally he would turn slightly from side to side so that everyone in the hall could hear him.
The operatic moments of each piece also include some mind boggling runs that went up and down very quickly. The Rossini piece offered the flashiest of these with a series that involved popping a high note in the midst of a run that was in the lower range. Using terrific breath control, Shifrin played all of the pianistic passages with gusto, crouching and almost bouncing lightly in a way that was fun to watch.
The orchestra accompanied Shifrin with great sensitivity. It was easy to hear every phrase and nuance from his clarinet. In much the same way, the orchestra also gave a fine performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The combinations of light and airy sections contrasted very well against the turbulent and darker parts of the piece. The violins nicely tip-toed their way through the delicate areas of the second movement, including passages that featured a distant echo. There were some muffled notes in the French horns and a stray note here and there from other sections, but overall, the orchestra gave a satisfying performance.
The concert began with the Overture to Gluck’s “Iphigénie en Aulide,” which warmed up the audience with stately melodic lines that suggested slowly turning ocean waves mixed in with a little pomp. The orchestra excelled at creating the darker moods of the piece as well.
Brotons conducted the Gluck and Mozart from memory. His baton work and gestures showed expert command of the music and allowed him to engage the musicians freely. It’s an impressive thing to behold.