Friday, February 2, 2018

Vancouver Symphony goes full tilt with New World Symphony

The Vancouver Symphony gave one of their best-ever concerts on Sunday evening (January 28th), at Skyview Concert Hall. The orchestra, led by its music director, Salvador Brotons delivered a vibrant performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) and an enchanting and witty rendition of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 (“Farewell”).

Dvořák’s “New World” symphony is one of the most beloved works in the repertoire; so there might be a temptation to play it in a lackadaisical manner, but the musicians of the VSO, urged on by Brotons, were more than up to the challenge, and created a wonderfully fresh and evocative performance. From the gentle and languorous opening to the fast and loud passages, the musicians of the orchestra fearlessly traversed the heights and depths of the piece with thrilling crescendos and decrescendos. Now and then the brass got a little overpowering, but their sound was exciting none the less.

The plaintive sound of the English horn (Kris Klavik) was a highlight of the performance. Other memorable moments included numerous contributions by the flutes (Rachel Rencher and Corrie Cook) , and the woodwinds in general. The French horns glowed, and the brass (trumpets, trombone, and tuba) rocked out. The strings expertly delivered a rich, lovely bouquet that included tight pizzicato passages. Brotons, conducting from memory, was animated to the point of bouncing across the podium – an infectious style that conveyed a marvelous energy that made the music resonate with the musicians and audience.

There’s nothing in the repertoire quite like Haydn’s “Farewell” symphony, because the music stands alone as a serious piece, yet it has the theatrical element in which the musicians walk off the stage during the latter part of the final movement. From the musical side of the ledger, the orchestral strings played with an excellent ensemble sound. The echoing passages (loud then soft), tender sections, and sudden dynamic shifts were done expertly. Several fleet runs in the fourth movement flew by with ease. There were some quibbles here and there regarding intonation in strings, and some bobbles in the horns, but none that got in the way.

On the theatrical side, the musicians must exit (it’s in the score)one by one during the last movement, and they did so quietly, turning off the light attached to their music stands. When Brotons left, he made a gesture as if saying, “Well, there’s nothing more for me to do,” and that caused a few good-natured chuckles from the audience. Finally there was only the concertmaster Eva Richey and principal second violinist Tracie Andrusko to carry on, and they did so gracefully playing the final notes on an almost pitch-black stage. The audience enjoyed it all and gave the musicians a hearty round of applause when they returned to take their bows.

Before the concert began, Kathy McDonald, VSO Board Chair, made some introductory statements that included how panicked she became on Friday morning after she read the headline to my concert preview piece, because the headline: “Vancouver Symphony Orchestra opens 2018 season with ‘Farewell.’” My apologies to McDonald but that title was too good to resist.

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