Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Carlos Kalmar Piano: Jane Coop

Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527 Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 2 in G Major ("London")

Dates: 18 and 20 January at 20.00 Venue: The Orpheum

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

The key to a special event arguably lies in that special moment when an artist's vision of a work and an audience's intense concentration on it quietly blend into one another. An event of this rare kind unfolded during Jane Coop's masterly but never flashy performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major. Indeed, this whole concert was an object lesson in well balanced forces, tasteful shaping, and musicality of a high order.

Maestro Carlos Kalmar, acclaimed Principal Conductor of Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival and Music Director of the Oregon Symphony, offered a careful but briskly paced Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni that suitably conveyed the nervous energy, male swagger, and sensuousness of the archetypal Latin seducer. The overture was itself a tease, leaving the audience very much in want of more.

And more it got as Mozart gave way to a deeply committed performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major that was overwhelmingly musical and in the plaintive, delicately etched second movement simply spellbinding. Jane Coop's diamond-sharp playing and immaculate tone served an impulse combining feeling with a formidable intellectual appreciation of the work's complexities and depths.

The lightness of the opening Allegro, truly played "con brio," led to a cadenza of singular interpretative originality. The plaintive Largo, startlingly intense, was gracefully played and delicately etched, with taut, impeccable support from the orchestra and podium. The fiery closing movement, jumpy and spry, featured quick tempi that never became ragged. Avoiding showy effects, this was a performance of marvellous conviction and singular intensity. It was stylistically informed by an authoritative but not academic sense of period, and the pianism was a revelation.

With Vaughan Williams' sprawling Symphony No. 2 in G major, a river-and-town La Mer of many (in fact, too many) musical ideas, the orchestra entered altogether another sound world . Evoking a city in music is something of a twentieth-century speciality, and Vaughan Williams took the challenge head on, presenting the varied colours of Edwardian London without the slightest blink. Moving from quiet, foggy moods, to brash, raw sound, to the alienated individual lost in the crowd the evocative impressionism is relentlessly demanding. With the chimes of "Big Ben" thrown in, the Thames at full flood, and lilting almost "Oi-rish" and "Knees Up, Mother Brown" moments, this is a serious, playful, showy, intense piece sometimes by turns and sometimes almost all at once.

This musical cornucopia received a rousing performance, architecturally shaped by Maestro Kalmar, whose control throughout the evening was never less than impressive. The principal strings player made superb contributions to the Vaughan Williams, and the orchestra is on fine form. Long may it remain so.

© 2003, J. H. Stape