Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Dates: Saturday, 26 April at 20.00; Monday, 28 April at 20.00 Venue: Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: J. H. Stape



Morawetz: Carnival Overture Strauss: Oboe Concerto in D Major Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39

Conductor: Michael Christie Oboe: Roger Cole



Michael ChristieThe more "recent" music came first--if two pieces both first performed in 1946 can be properly called such--but the clear show-stealer of a wholly satisfying evening was Sibelius's first symphony. Whatever the fine playing that preceded it--and Roger Cole worked wonders in Strauss's Oboe Concerto--this a work of such immense ambition and surging energy that all else seemed pale by comparison. Conductor Michael Christie led the orchestra in so compelling and lovingly detailed a reading that one wished the city's highways and byways would be lined with signs reading "Go, Symphony, go!

The concert began on a celebratory note, paying tribute to Czech-born Toronto-based composer Oskar Morawetz on his 85th birthday with a rousing rendition of his exuberant Carnival Overture, a perfect opener to this concert exploring facets of the modern musical palette. From its brash, vibrant opening to its bravura finale, the overture offered several charms: sparkling directness, a sense of playfulness, and quasi-Viennese glitter. It was nimbly played, the large forces nicely balanced.

Strauss's Oboe Concerto written in the last years of his life has a complexly intellectual and essentially serious and reflective character that searchingly meditates on the themes of maturity. Neither melancholy nor introverted, the first two movements are nonetheless intense and darkly coloured. The break into the vivace of the third movement comes exactly when relief is needed, and the bright and colourful closing allegro opens to the wider world. Roger Cole delivered exquisitely soulful playing, overcoming the technical challenges of the piece with finesse and confidence. He ably conveyed this piece of varied moods, with the orchestra giving precise, attentive support.




Maestro Christie, breaking with protocol to introduce the Sibelius first symphony, recalled the dark forests of lake-dotted Finland and Sibelius's stature as a national hero, though did not insist on any programmatic character to the music itself. His special affinity for the symphony was clear from the dramatic opening, scored for clarinet and drum, to the thrilling, no-holds-barred finale. Powerfully emotional and driven, this was an intense, deft reading, with rich colours made all the more vivid by incisive and nuanced playing.

The opening allegro's visceral appeal and passionate drive yield to lyrical impulse and yearning in a second movement of singular beauty. The third movement's frenetic dance was given a jumpy, edgy character that by its end surrendured to outright toe-tapping. And, then, what a finale! Urgent and explosive, singularly dramatic and nearly riotous, the music comes in cascades.

Maestro Christie's reading emphasized the sweepingly grandiose, the large gestures that make this symphony so relentlessly intense, while never for a second neglecting the delicate and evanescent. Hats off! And invite him back soon.

© 2003, J. H. Stape