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Date: 27and 29 November 2004 at 20.00 and 28 November at 14.00 Venue: The Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: J. H. Stape




Franck The Accursed Huntsman Ravel Concerto for Left Hand Franck Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra Richard Strauss Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

Conductor: Kazuyoshi Akiyama Piano: Jane Coop

Maurice RavelThis exceptionally well balanced programme had something for everybody: the serious and the playful, the familiar and the "new," in the sense of being rarely performed. The real surprises lie, perhaps, in the two Franck pieces.

Ever welcome were the deft direction of Maestro Akiyama and the formidable interpretative skills and flawless technique of Jane Coop, who gave immaculate performances of the Ravel Piano Concerto for Left Hand and the Franck Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra.

Unwelcome altogether was the behaviour of segments of the audience: the unwrap-the-candy-at-quietest-moment set was yet again in full force. It was accompanied fortissimo by the inveterate sneezers and wheezers, and -- disturbingly frequent at concerts and the opera in Vancouver -- by the talk-when-you-please crowd, who particularly like to get underway as a work begins. At least, "The Cell phone Concerto for Orchestra and Audience" is being heard less often these days. Anyone interested in serious listening should avoid the Sunday afternoon series. The Monday concerts are a much surer bet for polite behaviour.

Maestro Akiyama drew sterling performances from the orchestra throughout, but the two Franck works were a high point: colours were rich; the dynamics just right; superb contributions were offered by the brass section.


The Accursed Huntsman, in the tradition of programmatic music, told its woeful story forcefully and with impressive economy, the huge orchestra giving a performance of Wagnerian character in which menace and the elemental were skillfully conveyed. By contrast, the Symphonic Variations, boldly controlled, reached deeper with Jane Coop deftly colouring the piano sections and achieving pianissimi of devastating beauty that shimmeringly reached out for a world lying just beyond.

She was also deeply inside the music throughout the RavelJane Coop Piano Concerto, delivering a harrowingly sensitive rendition. Disappointingly, Maestro Akiyama's usual sense of balance failed him here: swept up, he encouraged the orchestra to drown out the piano on occasion in a work that is all balance and control from its grumbly, brooding opening to its breathlessly intense close. Nonetheless, the dramatic shaping was intelligent, and Jane Coop's characteristic sensitivity and musicality triumphed over odds.

The Germans are not known for cutting capers, and Strauss' sense of humour can be a heavy one. Flashy stuff, Till Eulenspiegel was flashily played. Again, Maestro Akiyama's emphasis was a touch over the forte, but this time it seemed right and came at no cost of muddiness or raggedness. The sound was full bodied, plummy even, and the details remarkably clear given the energetic tempi. The old fashioned word "gusto" seems the right one here.

2004 J. H. Stape