Vancouver Symphony

Berlioz, Brahms, & Mendelssohn

Berlioz Trojan March Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4 Italian

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Pianist Jon Kimura Parker

Dates 17 and 19 November 2007@ 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer J H Stape

In so many areas, the nineteenth century's ambitions daunt the niggling smallness of the postmodern. Berlioz and Brahms built on a heroic scale; Mendelssohn, at times more modest, proves no less compelling.

This well-crafted programme was an object lesson in musical giantism, but, fine as Jon Kimura Parker was in the monumental Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, it was the VSO's electric rendition of the "Italian" symphony that proved the evening's highlight.

The concert's amuse-bouche was the bold and brassy march from Hector Berlioz's masterwork, his 1863 opera Les Troyens. Its performance set a standard from which there could be no falling off, and Maesto Tovey worked his forces vigorously. The martial atmosphere of the brief piece was wholly to the forefront, the attacks bold and crisp, the playing from the all-important brass section sparkling.

The lightning-bolt opening of Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 announced the first movement's bristling, urgent character with aplomb. Jon Kimura Parker, this year's Cherniavsky Laureate, achieved a bright, appealing sound, balancing energy and tonal clarity. But his formidable interpretive originality came more to the fore in the aching, soulful passages that contrast with the faster forte ones. Tempi were quick, and some details ever so slightly blurred in the opening Maestoso.

This performance's soul, however, lie in the mysteries and depths of the Adagio, rendered with extreme delicacy and grace that conveyed a hushed intensity and an almost distubing intimacy as Kimura Parker communicated with the music and his instrument in some world apart.

The full-bodied Allegro, expansive in character, was all brightness and steely-fingering. It was played with daunting confidence, a kind of swaggering brio, and a no-holds-barred excitement. One might cavil that the closing bars were played so eagerly that detail went by the wayside in the search for the schzzam factor, but that would be curmudgeonly and overly precisian.

And then there was the Mendelssohn. Maestro Tovey brought out both the sunny Mediterranean character and the relaxed geniality of this most charming of works in masterly fashion, caressing out deft playing that was as robust as it was careful.

The bubbly first movement was vivacity crystallized, while the second movement Andante hinted at a graceful yearning that was never overly pronounced and in relentless good taste. The third movement, marked Con moderato, explored geniality and good spirits in an infectious way, while the closing movement saw fine, sharply defined playing as if the evening had just begun and the players had only arrived in their seats moments before.

The interpretive energy evident was simply towering, with Maesto Tovey leading a merry dance that should have sent the audience bopping into the aisles. This was a fine concert, and the nearly full house (on its best behaviour -- rare for the Saturday crowd) was regaled with top-notch performances that make one feel lucky to live in Vancouver.

© 2007 J H Stape