Vancouver Bach Choir

Vancouver Symphony

Wagner and Beethoven

Wagner Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15 and Symphony No. 6 Pastoral, Op. 68

Conductor and Pianist Stephen Kovacevich

Dates 26 and 29 November 2005 at 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer J H Stape

Stephen Kovacevich
Stephen Kovacevich

Wagner-starved Vancouverites (Vancouver Opera's excellent Der fliegende Hollander dates back a couple of years now) got a small bit of manna in this concert's opening tidbit. Music of a refined, spiritual character, the Lohengrin prelude got a densely textured reading that emphasized the note of longing and aspiration. The lush creamy sound in the string section worked well in the lead to the crescendo, and the end was appropriately delicate and wistful, reaching out tremulously for the ether.

Stephen Kovacevich, formerly Stephen Bishop and formerly Stephen Bishop Kovacevich, is a well known, if cameleon, name on the piano scene. Conducting from the piano he gave a bold and sprightly rendering of Beethoven's first piano concerto. Tempi were very brisk throughout, and the playing of both soloist and orchestra was energetic.

A cadenza written thirteen years after the concerto was originally performed was glitteringly presented. Assurance and sensitivity underwrote the flawless technical dazzle, and if somewhat determinedly on the flash side, the thing came off in Kovacevich's hands. The collabortion between keyboard and orchestra flowed and was equable, perhaps because the piano was placed so far into it, rather than, as usual, full front forward and seemingly alone.

Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" is always a musical feast for the ears. Under the circumstances, it vividly conjured up springtime on a bitterly cold evening. Brimming with energy and blithe spirits, the symphony effortlessly conveys a sense of brio and great charm however many times one has heard it. It got a polished performance by the orchestra, the reading tightly focussed, elegant and robust.

The woodwind section easily rose to the demands made on it, while the brass and cello and bass sections playing with characteristic aplomb. Again, tempi were somewhat on the fast side, Kovacevich taking some of the Allegro movement at a determined gallop, while the slow movement, marked Andante moderato, at times shaded towards largo. The storm section was masterfully performed, with details shining out brightly as the heavens opened up.

The audience was happily on its best behaviour. Perhaps those fatuous TV screens do serve a purpose in distracting those not very interested in music. Their contrast with the ethereal opening of Wagner spoke volumes about the very suburban sensibility that has urged their use at the Great Composers series. Ah well, one can, imitating Queen Victoria, close one's eyes and think of the music.

© 2005 JH Stape