Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Kazuyoshi Akiyama Cello: Alexander Baillie

Weber: Overture to Oberon Dvorák: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, “The Great”

Dates: 8 and 10 February at 20.00 Venue: The Orpheum

Reviewer: J. H. Stape

That strange hodgepodge Weber's Oberon remains a rarity in the opera house today even as the repertoire is making room for former rarities. Its sprightly overture has nonetheless earned a secure and well deserved niche as a curtain opener to many a concert devoted to Romantic and post-Romantic music, and, cast in that role, it served a chewily toothsome titbit that promised heavier things on the menu. The string section gave out a lush, bright tone, and Maestro Akiyama offered a confident and brisk rendition.

Surely one of the most beautiful in the whole cello repertoire, Dvorák's Cello Concerto in B minor was commandingly played by Scottish cellist Alexander Baillie, whose sense of passion and conviction were effortlessly communicated. Refined and detailed throughout, Baillie's playing was particularly moving in the adagio, which wears its heart on its sleeve. The woodwinds offered elegant accompaniment, creating an atmosphere that was gently dreamlike. The brash, driven character of the finale--in extroverted contrast to the second movement's inner intensities--was carried off with aplomb. Maestro Akiyama missed some dramatic occasions by a hair's breadth, but on the whole rose confidently rose to the level of Baillie's compelling playing.

Less satisfactory was Maestro Akiyama's reading of Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major (“The Great”), mostly a thing of patches, with full stride arrived at only in the last two movements in which the sparks finally burst into fiery flames. The opening allegro was somewhat sluggishly paced, attentive to detail but missing the larger, overarching viewpoint, rather in fashion of a good deal of Japanese art where the details are all lovingly placed but the whole is less impressive than the painstaking miniaturism. The second movement was also too hemmed in, and, in the end, overly careful to the point of stiffness, and cautious rather than spine-tingling.

Considerably more persuasive were the last two movements, where brio and bravado and even a bit of risk-taking allowed the smouldering flames earlier hinted at to burst into life. The dynamic finale managed to liberate the majestic energy underlying Schubert's conceptions, but it was all too late to pull this particular rabbit out of the hat, and the somewhat laboured reading was a moderate rather than run away success.

The woodwind and string sections were characteristically on form, though intermittent false quantities boomed in the brass section, and in the disastrous opening the horn sounded like a forlorn duck in search of a mate.

A word to the wise: Monday night audiences tend generally to be better behaved than weekend ones. Aside from one Loutcouverite whose watch went off regularly every half hour on the half hour, there was little of the irritating unmannerliness that too frequently mars concert-going at The Orpheum.

© 2003, J. H. Stape