Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Junichi Hirokami
Violin: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

Mendelssohn: Overture to Ruy Blas, Op. 95 Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 Schumann: Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 97, "Rhenish"

Dates: Saturday, 30 November and Monday, 2 December, 20.00
Venue: Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

Careful shaping, canny programming, and playing sensitive both to the broad sweep and the fine nuance made this concert in the Great Composers Series a mini-seminar in early Romantic music. From the opening dramatic bars of frenzy and stress of Mendelssohn's "Ruy Blas Overture" to the heart-tugging notes of the Mendelssohn violin concerto to the triumphant close of Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony this was a fine and thoughtful performance on all parts of majestic music confident of itself, conceived on a grand scale, and written for maximum impact.

Mendelssohn's "Overture to Ruy Blas" proved a toothsome appetizer. Its stormy mood, vividly evoked, it given a full-blooded and respectful reading by Maestro Hirokami. Slightly raggedy at the opening, the brass recovered quickly to produce stirring tones. The performance of such a minor piece was insightful and revealing, far from the perfunctory throwaway en route to the violin concerto, and the respect given it was typical of the musical intelligence on display throughout the evening during which musical markings were obeyed to the letter and dynamics careful attended to.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's authoritative rendition of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor was, shortly after it began, was accompanied for three or four bars by a boor's mobile telephone, but, a frown aside, she remained in stride, soldiering on to deliver a performance of icy technical perfection. The first movement was tightly reined in, its soaring lyricism conveyed by nervous, stylish playing. A warmer, more highly coloured emotional second movement gave way to sheer breakneck fiddling in the closing allegro, which was played molto vivace indeed. The orchestral accompaniment was precise and exquisitely nuanced. This crowd-pleasing performance met with an encore in the form of Jascha Heifetz's adaptation of "Bess, You is My Woman Now" from George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess.

As much as the soloist shone in the popular eye, the evening's true highlight was the stirring reading of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony, with crisp, bold attacks, fine playing in the brass and string sections, in particular, and a vibrant overall conception of a powerful and noble-sounding work that conveys both the solemnity and mystery of the Romantic temperament. Maestro Hirokami's largeness of conception garnered impassioned playing by the orchestra, and the rapport between podium and players was palpable. The fourth movement, marked Feierlich, stood out in a remarkable performance that again suggested how good form the symphony is on these days.

It is a pity to note that a relatively sizeable portion of the audience had left their concert-going manners elsewhere. Not only was the performance disturbed by the cell phone solo but also by banging of seats, choruses of coughing, and applause after every movement of the Schumann symphony (a tendency successfully squelched by Maestro Hirokami's virtual running together of the violin concerto's movements and the fourth and fifth of the Schumann.) Perhaps this segment of the audience requires more than the reminder in the programme to behave? At a concert performance I attended by the Vienna Staatsoper in Sofia last summer, the opera was preceded by no less than five reminders--in two languages--to turn off mobile telephones--and it worked like a charm. "Loutcouver" audiences evidently need to be told to hold their applause until a piece ends and to turn off their cell phones.

© 2002, J. H. Stape