Nielsen Maskarade: Overture Sibelius Violin Concerto Shostakovich Symphony No. 15

Conductor Eri Klas Violinist Eugene Ugorski

Dates 27 and 29 January 2007, 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer J H Stape


This superbly crafted, wholly coherent, programme offered aural, intellectual, and emotional insights in spades from its opening chirpy note to its closing bar somewhere in an ethereal, unearthly world. Estonian maestro Eri Klas, returning to Vancouver, offered a display of solid-gold musicianship, finely honed interpretive skills and commitment brought to bear unstintingly on music of signal interest. And then there was the virtuosity of 16-year-old American violinist Eugene Ugorski, not just a pretty boy wunderkind, but a talented young musician of dazzling technique and immense poise. Concerts simply don't get better than this.

The overture to Danish composer Carl Neilsen's opera Maskerade (1906), a potpourri of sprightly melodies, happy, lilting, and brimming with joie de vivre got a sparkling reading, literally opening the evening on a high note and chasing away the winter blahs. The details shone brightly, and the wit emerged light and frothy in this massively charming opener.

Right from its intensely beautiful opening bars, Sibelius's deservedly popular Violin Concerto in D minor (1904) goes right to the heart. By turns gently wistful, dramatic, and elegiac, it proved an emotional roller coaster totally under the control of Eugene Ugorski, whose vibrant and rich tone dominatedr.

Delivering a breathlessly exciting cadenza in the opening Allegro moderato movement, Ugorski displayed confidently intense musicianship and assured technique, effortlessly going from height to height. The lush and languorous Adagio, with its pathos and grand sweep, got a superb reading from the orchestra under Maestro Klas's firm baton, with Ugorski demonstrating maturity of interpretation and a fine appreciation of the music's changing moods. The closing Allegro, all fire but not overstated, was a display not of flashiness but of smouldering intensities and brilliant colouring. This musically exciting and extraordinarily sensitive and well-shaped performance was an adrenalin surge, as Ugorski built upon his fine, delicately shaded reading for a simply brilliant climax.

As bravi rang out and the curtain calls multiplied, Ugorski treated the audience to an encore (alas, unannounced by him but clearly a 20th-century work) that showed off his technical skills at white heat yet with discriminating musicality. As he charmingly hinted in the video feature (the concert was in the Horizons Series), he hoped to come back to play with the VSO. This encore alone should win him a place in next season's line-up and in seasons to come. Bring him back, please!

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 in A major (1971), a towering and daunting masterpiece, at once jokey, brooding, and resplendent, depends on large forces and repeatedly challenges the first chairs as well as the orchestra as a whole. In part, music about music (it clowningly quotes Rossini's William Tell Overture several times and seriously quotes Wagner's Die Walküre), the symphony is a deep meditation on human significance and evanescence, a leave-taking from music and the world alternately raging "against the dying of the light," as Dylan Thomas put it, and resigning from the fray with dignity intact and head held high.

Maestro Klas urged out a performance of singular intensity of this hauntingly beautiful farewell to the world. The exuberant first movement Allegretto, filled with high jinks, got just the right lightness and seriousness of touch making an effective contrast with the brooding melancholy of the following Adagio. Concertmaster Mark Fewer and Principal cellist Lee Duckles offered superb performances of the heartbreakingly beautiful music assigned to them in moments of great intimacy, while the brass and percussion sections, always on their mettle, delivered without stint.

This reading of Shostakovich's last symphony was sheer magic, opening up vistas and revealing splendours, the orchestral colours rich and dense, as the final bars moved out and beyond into a world not yet ours, a trembling on the ether, with the music going on and on long after the playing had stopped.

© 2007 J H Stape