Venue: The Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver
Date: Monday, 30 September 2002
Reviewer: Lois Carter
Beethoven's Egmont Overture evokes the feeling of Revolution from the outset. The VSO under the baton of Bramwell Tovey set the scene at the Orpheum Theatre for what was to be a stirring performance. Count Egmont the Flemish hero in Goethe's drama was portrayed by the orchestra with both intensity and pathos.
The recurring string motif, created a feeling of the majestic presence of the Count. However, the flowing theme depicting Clarchen's love for Egmont could have had more legato, giving greater contrast to the precise rhythm in the strings. There were places where the brass entries were a little uncertain, but the triumphal ending particularly form the trumpets left us with what can only be described as an electrifying end. The performance was both passionate and dynamic.
Calm sea and prosperous voyage
This work was described in the programme as having "qualities both musically and metaphorically somewhat relative in the Mahler Symphony to come" (David Lemon 2002).
Goethe's poem starts out by describing a deep peace over the water. Deathly still and eerie. The Vancouver Bach Choir phrased the opening passages with great sensitivity but loss of energy on some of the higher pianissimo sections caused intonation to suffer.
The second verse breaks into and exuberant song as the fog dissipates revealing land on the horizon. The transition into the joyous mood was vocally very well executed. Both choir and players painted a wonderful picture using choral and orchestral colour to draw the listener into a magnificent musical voyage, which was indeed "reflective in the Mahler symphony to come."
Mahler regarded his nine symphonies as experiments in autobiography. He believed that all aspects of human experience should be embraced in a symphony. Born a Jew Mahler himself embraced Catholicism as part of his personal lifelong struggle for peace. His resurrection symphony is an emotional journey both tragic and profound, an inextricable melody of positive and negative responses. This reveals the essence of Mahler's musical temperament.
The Symphony opens with cellos and double bases playing in unison, creating the foundation for building thematic layers of musical style; waltzes; fanfares; chorale; percussion, a wonderful edifice in sheer magnitude of sound. The first movement, 25 minutes in duration the orchestra played as one. Concentration and energy mixed with immense musical sensitivity to Tovey's clear lead.
He gave us enough time to rest before movements 2 and 3 where the strings in particular led by principle violinist Akira Nagai played like a flowing river of impeccable intonation. In the fourth movement the composed presence of Canadian Mezzo Susan Platts whose velvet like quality created a sense of desperation and inner turmoil in her rendition of "Urlicht". She was comfortably in her range and sang with committed interpretation. The final movement in the tempo of a 'scherzos' began to bring the symphony to its climax. Joanne Kolomyjec gave a solid assured performance although the chorus sometimes overpowered her. The Vancouver Bach Choir sang with conviction, showing that they are a confident and well-disciplined chorus.
Mahler is not for the fainthearted. The VSO soloists and the VBC rose to the occasion admirably. Tovey exacts a high standard musically and he got it.
© 2002 Lois Carter
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