My first foray into the world of classical music-critiquing was an OSM concert under Zubin Mehta- autumn 1961. During the past five decades I’ve probably attended about 5 thousand such events. Multiply that by approximately 3 works each, thus I’ve been privileged to hear a fair sampling of the repertoire. Naturally, I have my favorites and two of these made up the last H.P.O. concert of this season. Both are works by Beethoven
The violin concerto in D is an incredible composition… an opening allegro that runs over 20 minutes leading to a melodic larghetto & finale rondo whose themes are unforgettable. The guest soloist was James Ehnes whom I last heard four years ago when he was a guest soloist of Brott’s NAO. At that time I declared – “He conveys every nuance and emotional idiom. No theatrics; exaggeration or superfluous vibrato…strictly sensitivity” This accolade still stands as does his technical expertise. The demanding & longish allegro’s closing solo was impeccably executed and so thrilling that the audience’s spontaneous applause; while socially inept; was deserved. His larghetto was performed with a light touch and seemed almost exaggeratedly slow. The HPO’s brass counterpoint during the rondo was faultless and Ehnes’ technical challenge at the finale was aced! The orchestra however, was sloppy. The celli pizzicato during the allegro was noticeably unsynchronized. Overall, Sommerville’s team was timid and unexciting. They did however lose some of the automatonic manner and became more animated during the rondo. Perhaps the movement’s lyrical cadenzas inspired them.
The 9th Symphony, ‘chorale’ is definitively a creative masterpiece. Almost 1¼ hours long, this work has something for everyone. To this humble scribe, there is a six-note riff that appears about 10 minutes into the adagio third that begs for ‘just how much I love you’ as its lyrics! Sommerville’ s opening remarks and his detailed programme notes reflect the respect he has for the work & its message. This was amply demonstrated from the get-go; a temperate yet dynamic reading, full of enthusiasm. His scherzo bestowed emphasis on the melodic, and a liberal accentuation on the numerous solo opportunities the movement presents. The lone horn cadenza during the adagio cantabile was flawlessly executed.
The final half-hour of the piece is the ‘Ode to Joy’ and hearing a combined assemblage of Chorus Niagara & the Bach Elgar Choir vocalizing as one powerful articulation, and fronted by the talents of Mireille Asselin, Olenka Slywynska,Thomas Macleay & Taras Kulish; one cannot be anything but stirred by the music and the message to “♫be embraced you millions, by this kiss for the whole world♪”. Words to believe in…especially today!