Saturday, October 3, 2015

Superb performance by Anne Akiko Meyers of Bernstein’s “Serenade” with the Vancouver Symphony

Anne Akiko Meyers signing at intermission
Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers’s sensitive, yet exhilarating playing of Bernstein’s “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”) swept everyone away at the Vancouver Symphony season opener on Saturday afternoon (Oct 3) at Skyview Concert Hall. Wielding immaculate technique, artistic finesse, and a deep understanding of the music, Meyers wonderfully conveyed Bernstein’s somewhat esoteric music in a personal, tangible way. That’s no small feat, considering that the “Serenade” deals with the ideas spoken by seven Greek philosophers on the topic of love at a dinner party about 2,400 years ago.

From the first notes, sotto voce, at the beginning of the piece, Meyers effortlessly created gorgeous tones from her violin, the Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesu. Even at stratospheric heights, her violin exuded sounds that were as smooth as silk. But Meyers could also deliver amazingly crisp staccatos as well as precise, finger-flashing runs. The call and response setup between Meyers and the orchestra in the quick third movement (“Erixymachus”) and the transcendent calm of the fourth (“Agathon”) were highlights of the concert.

The orchestra, guided by Salvador Brotons, rose to the occasion with excellent playing, but I would have liked a little more intensity and a bit more zip at the end when Alcibaldes and his cohorts crash the party. However, the duet between principal cellist Dieter Ratzlaf and Meyers in the fifth movement (“Socrates; Alcibaldes”) was a gem.

Following a sustained, standing ovation, Meyers and the orchestra gave an encore, the “Love Theme” by Ennio and Andrea Morricone from the movie “Cinema Paradiso” in an arrangement by Angela Marley. When announcing the piece to the audience, Meyers said that it would be dedicated to the victims of the horrible tragedy in Roseburg, and all on stage played the piece with great feeling.

Some tentative entrances and intonation problems hindered the orchestra in its performance of eleven movements from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Still, there were plenty of dramatic moments, including the ponderous bass trombone and tuba passages in “The Montagues and the Capulets,” the mellow alto saxophone line in “Friar Laurence,” the blend of the woodwinds in the “Minuet,” and the surging horns in “Romeo at Juliet’s Grave.” Concertmaster Eva Richey executed her solos exquisitely.

Brotons and the orchestra had fun with the Overture to Bernstein’s opera “Candide,” which was the concert’s curtain-raiser. The melodies percolated along and all sections of the orchestra handled the trickiest passages cleanly, but a faster tempo would have made the piece more delightful.

During intermission, many concert goers lined up to get their programs signed by Meyers. She also signed her CDs, including her latest, which features the Bernstein “Serenade” and the “Love Theme” from “Cinema Paradiso” as well as other pieces from the stage and film. But even for those who didn’t get a signature, Meyer’s performance will be remembered as one of the best ever on a Vancouver Symphony program.

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