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Dates 5 and 7 March 2005 at 20.00
Venue The Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer J H Stape

Peter Hannan Side with Entropy (World Première) Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs Orff Carmina Burana

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Soprano Jackalyn Short Tenor Colin Ainsworth Baritone Russell Braun Vancouver Bach Choir and Vancouver Bach Children's Chorus


Randy Monks
 

Pairing a contemporary piece with old chestnuts is a slick trick of the trade to get conservative audiences -- and Vancouverites are that to a "T" -- to hear "new" music.The world première of Peter Hannan's cerebral Side with Entropy, scored for keyboard sampler, was, on the surface, on a clear collision course with Vaughan Williams's Mystical Songs and Orff's Carmina Burana . The open-minded listener would, howevr, have found strange harmonies and in-depth connections in programming this bold and in the attempt to join electronic music with the nineteenth-century orchestra.

Side with Entropy (in the sense of "join with" or "ally oneself to") is more than the sum of its parts, which can at times seem self-indulgent. An attempt to come to terms with "Chaos and Old Night" (read: personal and universal extinction) in a wholly modern idiom, the subject of this piece has had a long run ever since the Apocalypse was put on the menu.

Peter Hannan gives a ruthlessly scientific and mechanical twist (hence the gadgetry) to things eschatological, although the human voice is poignantly present, lamentingly attempting to communicate in shards: "I, I, I, I," "We end," and "Never enough." There are some predictable moments, forte as the human machine struggles against the dying sun in a universe merely random, and the piece, complex and involuted, might benefit from being shorter and thus possibly more "accessible." This was deliberately un-hummable stuff, but it made an impact. Unfortunately, it demands several listenings, contradicting its theme, which states ,unflinchingly, that we get only one shot at the can.

Ralph Vaughan Williams's Five Mystical Songs, based on poems by George Herbert (1593-1633) emerges from entirely different philosophical and musical traditions -- absolute sureness about the life's "meaning" and using inherited musical idioms (the hymn, medieval plainchant) -- and, by contrast, with Hannan's work nearly came off as "happy clappy" religiosity.

 

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Baritone Russell Braun and The Vancouver Bach Choir gave a thoroughly committed, well-shaped performance with nuance and colouring strong values. Typically "English" music, the songs were tastefully and intelligently sung, with the kind of restraint appropriate to high Anglican sentiment. At the end of the piece, a moment of silence was held in memory of Sergiu Comissiona, the symphony's conductor from 1991-2000, who had passed away the previous evening.

Carl Orff
Carl Orff

An enthusiastic "Wow!" burst from a member of the audience at the conclusion Orff's Carmina Burana. As a critical comment, it was pretty much spot on. Probably the most "wow-ing" music of the twentieth-century, the performance was not only emotionally satisfying but also, in the main, finely turned. Maestro Tovey revealed new depths in a piece so often performed, with surprises aplenty in tempi and dynamics. He continues to offer exciting readings of both the standard classics and new music, and in the two roustabout dances the playing was meticulous and impeccable.

The Vancouver Bach Choir and Vancouver Bach Children's Choir gave an unstintingly musical performance, well controlled and nearly note perfect. Russell Braun as the swain and, in particular the roasting swan, Colin Ainsworth as he slowly turned round before the parts of his song, gave welcome dramatic elements, far from the usual stand-and-deliver. Jackalyn Short was the weak component. Too mature for the role of the virgin, her voice was not in good shape, flailing about in the marvellous moment of indecision, and as the young girl ecstatically yielding her all, falling far "short" indeed, the de-flowering a whoop rather than a yielding to pleasure. That and a prolonged cell-phone attack before Stetit Puella -- the thing rang ten times -- took some edge off a performance that was otherwise wholly delightful, the stuff of comment (people were singing and humming in the street afterwards), and a revelation.

2005 J H Stape


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