Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Pompa-Baldi delivers impeccable and exciting Rachmaninoff with the Vancouver Symphony

Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Judging from the fairly large audience at Skyview Concert Hall (September 23), things are still on an upswing for the Vancouver Symphony, which experienced huge crowds a couple of months ago at the Vancouver Arts and Music Festival. The buzz in the air welcomed the orchestra to its 45th season, and guest pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi highlighted the evening with an evocative performance of Rachmaninoff’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 2.

Pompa-Baldi, who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music where he is Distinguished Professor of Piano and head of the piano department, showed an impeccable technical prowess at the keyboard. The grand, sweeping melodic themes in the first movement soared with emotion. He caressed the romantic and lush lines of the second movement with great care. The brilliant maelstrom of notes that he unleashed in the third movement created a sense of excitement and inevitability as the piece roared to its explosive finale

The orchestra, led by Music Director Salvador Brotons, accompanied Pompa-Baldi with excellent playing that included Rachel Rencher lovely flute solo and warm and clear violins throughout the piece. A couple of huge orchestral crescendos became too loud and washed over Pompa-Baldi’s sound, but overall, the orchestral sound enhanced his pianism, and the result was an immediate standing ovation.

Pompa-Baldi responded to the applause with an encore, Chopin’s flashy and bombastic Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor “Revolutionary.” He played it with such terrific elan that it caused another standing ovation, and that was a great way to close out the first half of the program.

Prokofiev’s Symphony No 4 – in its shorter, original 1930 version – received a tantalizing performance by the orchestra. Since it was based somewhat on his ballet “The Prodigal,” I kept trying to imagine the orchestral sounds in context with the Biblical story of the prodigal son.

The opening passage sounded languorous but unsettling because of the ominous sounds from the lower strings. Then came a pounding, motoric section followed by snarling trombones and ascending lines from the violins. Beautiful sounds from Rencher floated nicely with the strings. Many exchanges between various sections of the orchestra suggested volatility, and near the end, the pace of the music picked up dramatically to the point that the sounds became almost riotous. It all seemed to collide into an emphatic, demonstrative finale that took your breath away. Now I definitely want to see the ballet.

The last piece on the program, Ravel’s “Bolero,” got off to an excellent start with the offstage snare drum sounding as if from afar. Almost all of the musicians handled the main melodic line very well, but there were a few slippages. Still, with Brotons’s very emotional conducting style, the piece built up the intensity and the music connected well with the listeners, who responded with cheers and sustained applause. Brotons made sure to invite principal percussionist Wanyue Ye to join her colleagues for the acclaim. Her consistent beat over the entire duration of the piece deserved the highest praise. The audience left the concert with a smile, and that bodes well to keep the momentum going for the orchestra’s season.

Today's Birthday

Cyril Scott (1879-1970)
Vincent Youmans (1898-1946)
Jean Berger (1909-2002)
Igor Kipnis (1930-2002)
Dame Josephine Barstow (1940)
Misha Dichter (1945)
Chris Merritt (1952)
Dimitry Sitkovetsky (1954)
Peter Sellers (1957)


Sir William Empson (1906-1984)
Joyce Johnson (1935)
Kay Ryan (1945)

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)
Charles Munch (1891-1968)
George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Yvonne Levering (1905-2006)
Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966)
Salvatore Accardo (1941)
Dale Duesing (1947)


T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Jane Smiley (1949)

and from The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1957, 20 years after George Gershwin died, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. It was not immediately successful. It only became famous when it was turned into a film in 1961 and won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It’s based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, but it is set in the gang-ridden streets of New York.

During the weeks leading up to the opening of West Side Story, the news was full of stories of gang violence and racial confrontations. At the end of August, Strom Thurmond filibustered for more than 24 hours to try to prevent passage of the Voting Rights Act. The day before the show’s opening, federal troops forcibly integrated Little Rock High School.

In general, critics responded favorably to West Side Story, but all the major Tony Awards went instead to The Music Man, a bubbly, nostalgic musical about a small town in Iowa.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Johann Nikolaus Hanff (1663-1711)
Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897)
Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013)
Glenn Gould (1932-1982)
Stella Sung (1959)


William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929)
Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
Vaclav Nelhybel (1919-1996)
Cornell MacNeil (1922-2011)
John Rutter (1945)
Marc Neikrug (1946)


Horace Walpole (1717-1797)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
Eavan Boland (1944)

and from the Composers Datebook:

On this day in 1947, German-born composer Hanns Eisler is questioned about his former membership in the Communist Party by the House Committee on Un-American activities. Eisler had been a member of the Party in the 1920s, left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933, and had been working in Hollywood on film scores and as the musical assistant to Charlie Chaplin. He left the U.S. in 1948 and settled in East Germany - where he composed that country's national anthem.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Today's Birthdays

Jacques Féréol Mazas (1782-1849)
William Levi Dawson (1899-1990)
Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994)
Soulima Stravinsky (1910-1994)
Alexander Arutiunian (1920-2012)
Ray Charles (1930-2004)
John Coltrane (1926-1967)
Robert Helps (1928-2001)
Bruce Springsteen (1949)
William Shimell (1952)


Euripides (ca 480 BC - 406 BC) - today is the traditional day for Greeks to celebrate his birthday.
Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927)
Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865-1947)
Walter Lippmann (1899-1974)
Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986)

Friday, September 22, 2023

Preview of Vancouver Symphony concert and season in The Columbian

 My preview of the VSO's opening concert and a glimpse of its season is now published in The Columbian here.

Today's Birthdays

Arthur Pryor (1870-1942)
Mikolajus Ciurlionis (1875-1911)
Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988)
William O. Smith (1926-2020)
Hugh Bean (1929-2003)
Leonardo Balada (1933)
Anna Tomowa-Sintow (1941)
John Tomlinson (1946)
Vladmir Ghernov (1953)
Michael Torke (1961)


Fay Weldon (1931-2023)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Today's Birthdays

François Francoeur (1698-1787)
Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Meinrad Schütter (1910-2006)
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
Jill Gomez (1942)
Andrei Gavrilov (1955)
Nina Rautio (1957)


Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498)
Sir Edmund Gosse (1849-1928)
H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells (1866-1946)
Sir Allen Lane (1902-1970)
Stephen King (1941)