Dvorák and Schumann

Murphy And So Be Changed to Lightning in the End Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor Dvorák Symphony No. 8

Conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama Pianist Angela Cheng

Dates 25 and 27 November 2006 @ 20.00 and 26 November @ 14.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer J H Stape

This was a concert of several illuminations. Kelly-Marie Murphy's opening piece came as a revelation. Weighing in at about 12 minutes, this is a hugely successful exploration of the contemporary idiom, a rewriting of, say, The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Le sacre du printemps on steriods. An exciting and urgent piece, fast, dramatic, and with a real muscular edge, it has its inspiration in Dylan Thomas's poem "Do not go gentle into that good night," and it certainly "rages" mightly and with conviction. Brilliantly written, it deserves several re-hearings, and suggests the arrival of a true new talent on the Canadian music scene.

Angela Cheng is always a pianist with much to say, but her rendition of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor seemed slighly underpowered, technically satisfying but lacking in committment. Part of this may be that she lacked the physical strength for some of its demands, and her first movement cadenza, with its pearl-like sheen, showed off her talent at its best. The opening allegro got off to a somewhat fuzzy start, Maestro Akiyama's tempi extraordinarily slow. There was the usual meticulously shaped and elegant phrasing from the piano, but the restraint and refinement were exaggerated with the result that the overall performance lacked bite and tension, and in this workhorse of the repertoire one longed for a more spacious conception.

Part of the sluggishness lay in the conducting department: there was need for soulfulness here, and it just wasn't brought out, perhaps Maestro Akiyama tired out after the energetic opener, where his shaping and sense of drama were impeccable, as they were in the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 that followed.

And what a treat that was. This magnificent music saw all the elements in place again, with superb contributions by the brass section (one of the strengths of this very fine band). The thematic material of the Allegro received an intelligent, careful exposition, with detail in the forefront and grand effects no less well served. The emotionally compelling Adagio movement was shaped with a miniaturist's perfection, its shifting moods ranging from gentle melancholy to good spirits unerringly captured, and the sense of crisis and resolution conveyed with mastery.

The final two movements simply took flame, with the powerful final Allegro lilting and lyrical, and the whole orchestra stirred into a majestic outpouring of sound, never less than balanced and giving the kind of exciting dynamic reading that the opening piece by Murphy had. The audience left the auditorium humming -- a sure tribute to a performance that delivered.

© 2006 J H Stape