Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Dates and Venue 2 & 4 Jan @ 8:00pm | The Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

What a way to start the new year! Maestro Bramwell Tovey conducted this epic concert with the powerful voice of soprano Joni Henson, and at the finale, singing Schiller's Ode to Joy, together with the magnificent voices of mezzo-soprano Norine Burgess, tenor Michael Colvin, baritone Greg Dahl and the Vancouver Bach Choir. What followed were bravos, a standing ovation, and repeated curtain calls.

This was a fabulous program, symphonic fireworks, so to speak, from this great German composer, and superbly executed by the VSO. I'm still bewildered how a deaf man could write such beautiful symphonies. It's almost like painting the ceiling of the Cappella Sistina by a blind Michelangelo.

The first part of the programme was short, barely 30 minutes, with Beethoven's Fidelio Overture and Ah, Perfido!, Op. 65 based on the text by Pietro Metastasio, and sung expressively by Henson, first almost in tears as she delivered the verse "Per pieta, non dirmi addio!" and then bursting in anger with "Ah crude! Tu vuoi ch'io mora!".

I liked the close-ups flashed on two screens on either side of the stage. You could see the fingers move as the VSO musicians played their strings, and blew on their wind instruments. You could also see a close-up of the vibrant movements, front-view, of Maestro Tovey as he passionately shifts his baton from one section of the orchestra, then points to a soloist to cue him/her, and at the end, another close-up of him wiping the sweat off his forehead and neck.

An intermission followed, to rearrange the stage and allow the 110 or more members of the Vancouver Choir to settle in at the back. of stage. Then, the moment we had been waiting for, the symphony that needs no introduction, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, more commonly known as "Ode to Joy", as this was the title of Schiller's poem on which Beethoven based this magnificent symphony. What tour de force, how majestic this symphony is, lasting almost an hour!

The first three movements were played solely by the VSO, as the four singers in the front of the stage and the Bach singers at the back sat patiently waiting for that pause between the third and fourth, preparing internally for their performance. And what a performance! Soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone singing in unison, and at times in duets, in trios, and solos, and the Bach Choir with their powerful voices, ending this deeply religious ode with Such'ihn uberm Stermenzelt!/Uber Sternen muss er wohnen. Oh my, I was moved to tears, and with the last beat and wave of the Maestro's baton, we all stood in ovation for more than five minutes in praise and adulation of this fine orchestra, these vibrant singers, and the energetic multi-award-winning conductor, Bramwell Tovey!.

.© 2010 Ed Farolan