Music Review: Victoria Symphony delivers bold, diverse program
At Southam Hall
The Victoria Symphony is celebrating its 75th season with its first-ever cross-Canada tour. Friday saw them performing at the NAC, the penultimate stop before they head home to B.C.
The evening opened with a brand new work written for the symphony by Montreal composer Michael Oesterle. Entr'actes is a programmatic piece, meant to depict the chatter and activity of a concert intermission. With its steady, rhythmic impulsion and hummable themes, it's accessible, if predictable. It's also somewhat episodic; the material is intriguing, but lacks consistent development. However, the work's restless nature and evocative depictions would make a good ballet score.
Tania MIller, the orchestra's artistic director, has a crisp, no-nonsense style on the podium. Her body language is taut, economical but not minimalist, a little angular, always supremely direct and clear.
Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear is the guest soloist accompanying the orchestra on tour. Goodyear's well-established reputation as a virtuoso powerhouse was cemented again in the Grieg Concerto. He doesn't always have the loveliest sound: it's gigantic, but can also get dry and choppy. The lyrical melancholy of this work wasn't terribly well served, particularly in the second movement, even though the orchestra took you on a walk through the dark cool of a Nordic forest. But Goodyear's velocity, his ferocious attack, his spotlessly clean fingerwork were all turned out to impress.
It was the orchestra's turn to shine in the second half, with two meaty works chosen to show off both the versatility of the ensemble and the individual quality of the principals.
It can be unfair to judge an orchestra's sound when the hall isn't home ice. Section placement is tricky in Southam Hall. It's never advantageous to have cellos on the outside here, and putting the percussion right behind the first violins was perhaps not the best arrangement.
Still, Copland's Appalachian Spring achieved a wide-skied luminosity, the brass and woodwinds like bright shafts of sunlight floating over the warm earthiness of the strings. There were sensitive, finely-hewn solos from principal flute Richard Volet, principal clarinet Keith MacLeod, and quietly effective concertmaster Terence Tam.
But if the Copland was satisfying, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite was a revelation: a massive, two-ton sound, spectacular brass, electrifying strings, verve and passion and volcanic energy. Who knew such a vehemently Russian performance could come out of prim Victoria?