VSO with Scott St John

Dates and Venue 1 and 3 March 2008 @ 8 pm and 2 March, Sunday, @ 2pm | The Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama Violin Scott St John

Rossini Overture to La gazza ladra Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major Coulthard Endymion Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin

Reviewer J H Stape

This was an evening of mixed achievements. Rossini's overture to La gazza ladra (1817), "light and lovely" and frothy if music ever was, had a Wagnerian character because the orchestra was far too huge and details thus got lost.

The toe-tapping charmer element of the "Thieving Magpie" came across at moments; the brass section was superb (as always); and there was an attempted element of dash and boldness, but sheer size weighed this down, and in the end it was thick textured rather than gossamer like, rather like a duck than a magpie flying.

Tempi were curious in the opening of the Brahms Violin Concerto, and Scott St John's tone somewhat scrawny and lean, though he was good at the flashy pyrotechnical cadenza (not the familiar one), and gave a good workmanlike performance rather than a truly inspired one, never quite reaching down to the depths in this most winning of violin concerti.

Part of the problem originated from the podium, Akiyama often not pushing that extra centimetre to give real bite where it was needed ... until the third movement Allegro giacoso when the sprightliness and joyousness that Brahms aimed at finally did come across. On the whole, the performance was technically adroit but far from the stuff of legendary music-making.

To mark Vancouver composer Jean Coulthard's centenary the programme featured her Endymion, Poem for Orchestra, inspired by the English Romantic poet John Keats. Here Maestro Akiyama hit his stride caressing out a delicate and gracefully balanced reading, but the work itself, written during the 1960s, rather than suggesting the influence of Debussy and the Impressionists came across as merely derivative -- a kind of paint-by-numbers composition that was hopelessly dated.

(A concert in Coulthard's honour given a few weeks ago by the Turning Point Ensemble showed off much more interesting work from her pen.)

The concert ended on a high note with a rushy, wholly compelling reading of Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin (1926), a radical, innovative composition, huge and brassy, relentlessly "modern," heavily influenced by Stravinsky but no mere slavish imitation.

And the concert ended just as it truly got going, the orchestra warmed up and the Maestro dishing out more-than-your average night's fare. Pity this came so late in the evening.

© 2008 J H Stape