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.