Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

  • Conductor: Andrey Boreyko
  • Vocal Ensemble: musica intima
  • Soprano: Valdine Anderson
  • Baritone: Brett Polegato
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 1: Blumine Sharman: Love, Beauty, Desire Britten: Death in Venice Suite Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor
  • Venue: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
  • Date: Sunday, 10 November, 20.00
  • Reviewer: J. H. Stape

What a feast of music-making! With spirits dampened neither by driving rain nor low attendance (a mere third of the hall was full), the orchestra and soloists, under the skillful baton of Maestro Andrey Boreyko, provided a musical offering that was illuminating, dazzling, and moving. Though not explicitly stated, the theme giving the evening coherence and intensity was love, variously explored in Mahler's overwhelmingly charming "Blumine," to Rodney Sharman's exciting new composition "Love, Beauty, Desire," Britten's neurotically-tinged Death in Venice Suite and the heart-tugging Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

Mahler's short "Blumine," written in the full flush of love fulfilled, is a work of considerable charm and develops thematic material of much intrinsic beauty. Maestro Boreyko's reading was not so much shaped as caressed and refined elegance was its keynote. Mahler's rich tonal tapestry evoking the longing, the happiness, and the discovery of love was woven with conviction and authority. The woodwinds and brass offered superlative playing, contributing to a compelling performance.

The world premiere of Rodney Sharman's "Love, Beauty, Desire" was the evening's highlight. Introduced by the orchestra's current composer-in-residence, Jeffrey Ryan, in dialogue with Sharman, the work, commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, was inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses. Using texts by Atom Egoyan, Ovid's 17th-century translator George Sandys, Sharman himself, and Dutch poet Gerard Reve, the 25-minute composition is at once intensely cerebral and deeply emotional. Thoroughly contemporary in its musical vocabulary and idioms, it is never less than completely accessible, speaking with and for our times.

The brooding character of the opening, with its solemn sense of foreboding, is scored for soprano, and Valdine Anderson, in glorious voice, created a harrowing, obsessive tension. The icy perfection of tone as the music circles back on itself brilliantly communicated the lover's focus on the beloved. The warmth and purity of musica intima's sound bodied forth love in a happier phase, but this again was transformed into melancholy and tristesse in the baritone solo, with Brett Polegato's generous, characterful voice superbly conveying the heart riven by desire. Yet another transformation focussed on insecurity and perplexity in a moan of desire and emotional angst scored for soprano soloist and sopranos in the vocal ensemble. The baritone and choir take up a conclusion of endless longing. This is a thrilling work, deserving and demanding several hearings. Former composer-in-residence for the VSO, Sharman should, in the Japanese fashion, be declared a national living treasure. A more musically astute society would see his music sung and hummed in the nation's highways and byways.

Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice Suite from his last opera, based on Thomas Mann's novella, focuses on love unrequited and impossible. A work of shifting moods, it moves through forced sunniness and painful self-awareness, but is also at moments somewhat bombastic and showy. The sprite-like Tadzio (conjured up by the xylophone and in the opera a dancer) flits in and out of Aschenbach's mind, engendering self-doubt, short-lived bravado, and, finally, self-indulgence tinged with self-knowledge. Britten's pastiche writing, drawing on a panoply of soundscapes including Malay gamelan, is in the end curious rather than illuminating.

By contrast, the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth Symphony portrays overwhelmingly poignantly yearning with great conviction and almost unbearable intensity. It was given a shimmering reading that conveyed both the durability and the evanescence of overwrought feeling. In line with the whole evening, the performance was tightly controlled, delicately coloured, and finely nuanced.

© 2002, J. H. Stape