Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Season Finale

Dates: 21June 2003 at 20.00
: Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: John Jane



Conductor: Bramwell Tovey

Featured Performers: Lang Lang - piano; Sarah Fryer - mezzo soprano; Vancouver Bach Choir.

piano keys

Lang Lang
Featured Soloist
Lang Lang - Piano
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra bid adieu in fine style to a successful season with an entirely Russian programme. It was close to a full house that saw Maestro Bramwell Tovey lead the orchestra in the opening performance of the evening with Modeste Mussorgsky’s short tone poem Prelude to Khovantchina. Frequently referred to by its popular subtitle Dawn over the Moscow River, it is rather impressionistic in nature, and not so typical of Mussorgsky’s strong lyrical style. The opening is light and delicate, with the woodwind section featured to great effect.

There was a brief interruption, while stage hands set up the stage to accommodate the Steinway grand piano at centre stage for the much anticipated Sergei Rachmaninoff Concerto for Piano No.3. This being accomplished, Maestro Tovey re-entered the stage area, this time joined by featured soloist Lang Lang (pronunciation is closer to Long-Long) with the young Manchurian wearing an attractive blue silk dragon jacket in preference to the standard tuxedo.

Rachmaninoff’s ‘Third’ is regarded among concert pianists as one of the most challenging pieces in classical music. The forty-five minute concerto gained some notoriety in the film “Shine” which was a dramatized biography of the Australian pianist, David Helfgott.

In the opening movement (Allegro ma non tanto) Lang Lang delivered a subtle, reflective interpretation, that was full of expression. His build-up to the cadenza was technically superb, clearly demonstrating an understanding and maturity beyond his years. He appears to have developed an animated style that can be quite entertaining.






Tovey’s conducting was equally commanding, allowing Lang Lang room in playing the melody lines. Deftly working in unison, Tovey and Lang Lang brought out the full range of romantic expression in this concerto. In the third and final movement (Alla Breve) the Wunderkind showed with his incredible dexterity in building each passage of the concerto to its heroic conclusion, why he is widely regarded as such a phenomenon.

At the end of the full length concerto, the audience responded with a well deserved standing ovation. It is unusual that an artist is pressed for an encore in the first half of a concert, but Lang Lang obliged with Franz Liszt’s compelling transcription of Widmung, after acknowledging the 150th anniversary of the Steinway piano.

In the second half, the orchestra was joined on stage by the eighty-five member Vancouver Bach Choir and mezzo-soprano Sarah Fryer, who was a last minute replacement for Jean Stilwell.Sergei Prokofiev’s spectacular score Alexander Nevsky was originally written to accompany Sergei Eisenstein's propagandist film depicting the Russian prince’s successful 13th century military campaign.

The first movement, entitled Russia under the Mongolian Yoke sets a suitable stark, mournful tone, where the tuba is featured to draw a somewhat ominous image. The following movement introduced the choir in a daunting and deliberately gloomy rendering of Song of Alexander Nevsky.

Perhaps the most pivotal - certainly the most momentous movement is the chilling The Battle on Ice. Here the Maestro compelled the audience to envisage the frigid wasteland of the Russian winter. Ms Fryer’s mezzo-soprano voice beautifully delivered the poignant solo The Fields of the Dead.

The VSO will return to the Orpheum in September for their first engagement of the 2003 - 2004 season when they will be performing Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.

© 2003, John Jane