Vancouver Symphony

Dvorák and Tchaikovsky

Date 29 April and 1 May 2006, 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre

Dorothy Chang Short Stories Dvorák Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Conductor Long Yu Violin Kyoko Takezawa Reviewer J H Stape

This evening of mixed pleasures featured something (sort of) new in Dorothy's Chang's Short Stories (1998; revised 2003), a talented young violinist tackling an infrequently played work by a major composer, and a familiar symphony by a great composer, and yet the whole did not quite come off, the orchestra never reaching soaring heights and the conducting lacking subtlety, colour, and nuance precisely where they were needed.

Typical of contemporary concert openers, Chang's 15-minute work relies on a huge orchestra, some flashy effects, and a large palette of colours. The three movements -- "Nocturne," "Pas de deux," and "Crash" -- were clearly differentiated. Chang obviously set out to redefine the nocturne form: this was no peaceful night, with serenity momentary rather than sustained, and a good deal of noise -- gongs, brass, and drums -- on offer before the predictable quiet fadeout. Indeed, predictability was possibly the key note of the piece, the music sounding already familiar --say Gershwin on chrystal meth.

Dvorák's Violin Concerto in A minor maintains a tenuous hold on the standard repertoire. Kyoko Takezawa's performance was vigorous, committed, and respectful if not illuminating. The music itself is partly at issue: mainly bright top and polished surfaces, it refuses to explore murky depths, and aside from the occasional striking moment, the musical ideas are glossy, not especially thrilling or thrillingly developed. The Adagio movement (played directly on the opening Allegro) was soggy and sluggish, with the orchestra rising to the occasion in the closing Allegro giacoso.

Takezawa made her 1707 Stradivarius sing (it is soon to go on the auction block), but Maestro Yu's approach -- consistent throughout the evening -- was heavy-handed, made up of broad strokes, over-punctuated climaxes, and transitions so awkward one felt the whole would simply fall to pieces.

He brought this shaping to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, the first two movements never quite stirring into life, and, for all his dancing about on the podium, communication between orchestra and podium intermittent. The brief third movement Valse sprang into sudden life, although again the absence of colour and detail was characteristic of Yu's approach, and he consistently failed to coax more than competent playing out of the orchestra, however often he grabbed out for a flashy effect. At times there was more of the band leader than orchestral conductor in his style, and music like this was wasted in his hands -- which sometimes seemed to hold a trowel (for laying it on thick) rather than a baton.

The maestoso aspects of the final movement were muffed, and one kept longing for Maestro Tovey on the podium, who would have breathed life and wonderment into this glorious music. It's a pity Tchaikovsky couldn't take a bow, for the audience, stirred up by drum and brass, wildly applauded the music rather than the performance.

© 2006 J H Stape