Orchestre Symphonique de Québec

Conductor: Yoav Talmi Violin: James Ehnes

Evangelista: Symphonie minute Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 Dvorák: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 8

Venue: Orpheum Theatre Date: 31 March at 20.00

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

What better way to celebrate a 100th anniversary than to pick up sticks and set out on a grand tour? L'Orchestre Symphonique de Québec' s Vancouver appearance, the first stop in a tour that also includes Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa, was under the auspices of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and offered a welcome opportunity to hear an ensemble that has received less media attention and recording exposure than that band from Montréal, the OSQ's sometimes querulous and flashy big brother further down the St Lawrence.

The OSQ has a sprinter's reflexes--energy, power, sheer pizazz--and a long-distance runner's sense of confidence and pacing. Israeli-born Maestro Talmi, the OSQ's Music Director since 1998, caressed out a rich, plummy sound in a programme tailor-made to show the Orchestra's depth and breadth in its mastery of contemporary, late-Romantic, and Modernist idioms. Compelling interpretations and assured and stirring playing made for much to celebrate.

"Symphonie minute" by Spanish-born, and now Québec-based, José Evangelista proved a sprightly and clever opener. Melodic in character, with hints of Gershwin, it four short movements--each about 2 1/2 minutes long--plays off the traditional symphonic form. The brisk "Envoi" (Take Off) contrasted sharply with the melancholic and introspective "Mélopée." Driven and energetic, "Combat" offered multiple opportunities for the especially fine brass section to shine. The headlong rush of the closing "Presto chromatique" was a buzzed and jittery finale. Never less than "accessible," Evangelista's writing happily avoided mere gimmickry.

Endowed with cover boy good looks, violinist James Ehnes exudes star quality. Much more than a pretty face, he produced a meltingly beautiful tone from the "Ex Marsick" Stradivarius of 1715 on loan to him, and his exquisitely crafted performance of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 was shot through with dramatic intensity and musical intelligence.

Lush, expressive playing made for an enthralling experience, with technical expertise matched by a lyric impulse and sensitivity of extraordinary character. Diamond-edge incisiveness and technical wizardry were the order of the evening in Ehnes's stylish and elegant reading of this heart-on-its-sleeves concerto. Paganini-like flashes gleamed in the exposed sections while the larmoyant qualities in adagio passages aimed straight for the heart strings.

Rousing stuff, Dvorák's Symphony No. 8 was rousingly played, with Maestro Talmi effortlessly achieving maximum dramatic impact in both its stately and rambunctious sections. Crisp attacks and frenetic playing gave the first movement a shazzam, slam-dunk quality while the Sturm-und-Drang second movement was bold and confident, its arpeggios rendered with daunting skill. The dance movement was truly dance-like: fleet, playful, and graceful, and the finale, where a invitation to raggedness lurks in the tempi, was tightly disciplined and smartly energetic as cascades of sound generously poured forth. Talmi's reading featured both the grand sweep and highly polished details, and the finely honed OSQ's performance was convincing and dashing.

Impressive in every respect, this was a concert for the memory-box. Warm best wishes to the OSQ on its first one hundred years--and may it make music for another hundred at least!

© 2003, J. H. Stape