Review by Danny Gaisin
Selecting a new artistic director for a symphony orchestra is akin to finding a mate rather than just a ‘one-night stand’. Surprisingly, the Great Hall was not filled to see & hear Alastair Willis conduct with pianist Andre Laplante as guest soloist. Hopefully, members of the designation committee were in attendance. One regular subscriber told me how much this person really enjoyed the ‘Deevorac’ piece! Yikes. Bet this same individual was the one who started the tacky between-movements applauding.* Alastair Willis conducting the HPO’s rendering of Dvorak’s 7th
After some relaxed & personalized comments by Willis, including a few humorous inclusions that lightened the atmosphere, a composition by Torontonian Gary Kulesha, entitled ‘Torque’. A wrenching (sorry) interpretive piece that is all too brief (3-minutes). Then, Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto – the famous ‘Emperor’. Laplante has had a distinguished musical career that earned him accolades as well as an O.C. This performance was surprisingly uneven. The soloist’s interpretation ran from the perigee of a glaring full-tone goof in bar 42 of the opening allegro; to exquisite delicacy and almost caressing the melodious cadenzas inherent in the adagio. His slightly extended pauses added a drama to his version that coupled with the contradictory moods within the longish movement; earned him applause at its end.
The adagio 2nd with its lullaby introduction and melodic theme (usurped by Bernstein for one of the West Side Story arias) was presented with an almost muted tease, then – BAM! The adagio might have been of CD quality were it not for a few almost inconspicuous flubs. The rondo belonged to the HPO musicians who performed with verve and faultlessly. The variant tempi by both the soloist & podium intensified the excitement of the finale.
Post-interval, Antonin Dvořák’s sensitive Symphony No. 7. From the opening, Willis demonstrated his ease & assurance. He is meticulous but pedantic with the music. His manipulation of the strings gave the reading an almost understated & muted representation of the defiance and personal upheaval that the composer felt while writing the work. Allowing the soloists an unfettered opportunity to express the more emphatic riffs must have endeared him to the HPO members.
The 2nd movement with its almost Broadway-ish leitmotif telegraphed the Czech indomitability and optimism that Dvořák hoped to express in his composition. Willis extracted and captured every nuance of this piece. His tempo selection for the scherzo extrapolated the ‘poco meno mosso’ notes (little less rapid) as suggested by the writer himself. By the finale allegro, this critic decided the HPO hasn’t sounded as good for some time.
One of the musicians told this scribe about a Barenboim concert in which the soloist made some errors. But his consensus – “so many little mistakes; but so much MUSIC”… an apt encomium, especially for this particular concert.
To date, two candidates – two superlative musicians. Says much for the Hamilton Phil; the quality of its musicians, and for our city itself.