Review by Danny Gaisin
‘I coulda been a contender‘ says Brando in “On the Waterfront”. My mother wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer, but Daddy, as part owner of a Montreal newspaper never opposed my interest in journalism. Maybe the MD or LL.B would have made me more financially stable, but given the opportunities afforded the so-called ‘Fourth Estate’ such as critiquing a concert last evening, I wouldn’t change professions for even half of Gates’s wallet!
The Hamilton Philharmonic under artistic director Gemma New is an amazing conglomeration. Audiences can almost physically sense the affection and respect between musicians and the podium.
An added fillip is her erudition and connection with her from our side of the stage. Having an obligation to attend concerts or theatre events is like being duty-bound to taste wines or munch chocolate.
Christos Hatzis 1999 composition is titled ‘Zeitgeist’ which colloquially is defined as the essence or outlook of a particular time or period. Hatzis wrote the piece as an exemplar of the place of Arts in today’s society. Obviously he correctly feels that it is not at the top of the pyramid when it comes to support or interest. Thus, the work is sombre & colourless with motif echoes and repetitions plus myriad false endings. Not something this scribe will add to my CD collection.
Samuel Barber wrote his violin concerto under commission in 1939. He started it in the Alps and completed it near his home in the Poconos (Eastern PA). The piece is a standard of the violin repertory having been recorded by Stern; Bell; Perlman and Shaham as well as by last night’s HPO guest soloist, James Ehnes. I’ve had the privilege (and it IS that) of hearing this young man in 2008 with the NAO and again in 2012 with the Hamilton Philharmonic. To quote this humble scribe, my opinion then was: – “He conveys every nuance and emotional idiom. No theatrics; exaggeration or superfluous vibrato…strictly sensitivity.”. He STILL does albeit without the intensity of concentration or rigid stance that I recall from those earlier events.
Ms. New & Ehnes gave the work an almost dreamlike reading. Both the soloist and musicians performed exquisitely, even the occasionally philistine Hamilton audience sat on their hands between movements, and I only noticed ONE person surreptitiously checking his Android phone during the andante. The finale presto is moto perpetuo in which a continuous course of melody or notes are repeated in a rather fast tempo. The concept reached apogee in the late 1800’s…think Chopin’s 2nd sonata. Naturally this is a challenge for the performer. Ehnes aced it so perfectly that the audience refused to re-seat until he performed a brief encore ( Bach’s 3rd sonata).
The evening’s major work was Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony – ‘The Eroica’. The background tale iterates that the composer wrote it as a paean to the democratic ideals he thought were shared by Napoleon Bonaparte. When Nappy declared himself Emperor, Beethoven re-dedicated the piece.
The opening allegro movement was performed in a slightly rushed style especially in the motif recaps and during the section’s ending iteration of the early theme. However, this left more time for the funereal second adagio assai. Naturally, the treatment was melancholy and certainly spellbound the audience with New’s adopting creative tempi. Her reading of this ternary movement was innovative.
The scherzo third’s most noticeable feature is the displaced rhythm accentuating the weakest beat. The HPO’s brass section, coupled with the syncopated metronome of Iadeluca’s percussion made this a definitively recordable piece. A worthy addition for CBC’s demanding ‘CanCon’ library that presently seems inundated with OSM works under Detoit.
The finale allegro molto is something of a ‘variations on a theme’. The orchestra did not just perform the movement, they somehow romanced it, reflecting a quite probable appreciation and enjoyment in rendering it for the Hamilton audience.
The next major concert brings back Sommerville to the podium.
An aside. It’s been a mental objective for our O.A.R. to reach a four-figure readership of a specific article. Last week we nearly achieved same, thus pushing closer to our target. Do tell your friends about us.