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Date: 6 & 8 November 2004 at 20.00 Venue: The Orpheum

Reviewer: J. H. Stape



All Beethoven Programme

Leonore Overture No. 3 | Piano Concerto No. 2 | Symphony No 3 Eroica

Conductor Bramwell Tovey | Piano Naida Cole


Bramwell ToveyAmong major nineteenth-century large-scale works can there be music more consistently thrilling, confidently aimed to move and to delight, as Beethoven's? Even Berlioz and Wagner, those composers for mighty forces, fall short of the pinnacle that "Ludwig van" dominates. Luckily for Vancouver, Maestro Tovey seems to have a soft spot for a certain Viennese composer now not quite as fashionable as he once was with musicologists -- if remaining front row centre with the public.

The programming for this concert was of the crowd-pleasing sort, and the crowd was large, more varied in age than usual, and, for Saturday night set, surprisingly well behaved. The chestnuts were roasted vigorously and masterfully in a concert that showed the orchestra at its best and proceeded to unfold splendour after splendour from the dramatic opening chord of the "Leonore Overture No. 3" to the last driving notes of the mighty "Eroica."

Maestro Tovey again showed his skills at creating and holding on to tension -- almost unbearably -- with architecturally shaped and passionate readings of the works on the programme. One text book example of "how to do it excitingly" followed another, with the chilling moment when the distant trumpet announces freedom in the Leonora Overture, as ever, a particular highlight, an adrenalin rush that keeps rushing. Restrained and controlled tempi led to taut and stylish playing; musical excitement brimmed but was tastefully never allowed to gush over into raggedness.




Naida Cole likewise gave full value in her rendition of the Second Piano Concerto, music of enormous charm in the Classical mould but worlds away from "Papa" Haydn and Mozart at their most facile. Cole's playing, by turns theatrical and pensive, had a cut-diamond brightness, carrying conviction and exploring to the full the depths that this work Naida Cole does possess. Her pianissimi were intensely beautiful, eliciting hushed awe: music, no doubt about it, can tame the savage breast.

Icy elegance and technical mastery were brought to bear the opening Allegro's cadenza, and Cole unstintingly delivered a highly individual and subtly coloured reading of the soulful Adagio. Cerebralness and warmth rarely go together, and Cole displayed passionate musicality with thoughtful elegance.

And what an Eroica -- heroic, indeed, with all the qualities of a natural force -- a torrent or a volcano, say. The symphony received a crisp performance, latent power suggested at the outset and never less than deeply stirring throughout. The violins shimmered, offering a creamy, plush sound in the famous Funeral March, while throughout the brass section strutted its stuff. Confidence, colour, and excitement were the keynotes of this bold, energetic reading that lingered over the desperate beauty of adagio passages and savoured the tumpy-tumpy moments.

As I heard in the scrum to reclaim coats and umbrellas, "What a good orchestra we have!" Yes, and playing at top form, too. If there are any tickets left, run out and get one for what is, hands down, simply the best "show" in town.

2004 J. H. Stape