The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, conducted by maestro Bramwell Tovey, presented its new season with a concert that included works from Berlioz, Beethoven and R. Strauss as well as the Vivian Fung’s world premiere Biennale Snapshots, a commissioned work inspired by five of the Vancouver open air art installations.
The evening started with Le Corsaire, an overture written in by Hector Berlioz during a trip to Nice on the French Riviera. It isn’t his finest work, but it was a timely piece to open the season. The melodies of Berlioz were easy and inspiring, like a subtle invitation to adventure.
It was followed by the Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, interpreted by Miriam Fried. The experienced violinist surprised for the intensity showed throughout her appearance at the Orpheum, playing a 1718 Stradivarius owned before by composer Louis Spohr. The VSO began the first movement with measured density in the strings before the soloist’s appearance. Fried played this first part with passion, decelerating as in a bittersweet weep and attacking the scales like a shiver. Not enough sharp in some notes, Ms. Fried’s performance was always sensitive to the meaning of the music. At the end of the first movement, Beethoven breaks out the melody into small and essential pieces and builds it up later, though more distilled and naked. Tovey accompanied the violin with both touching delivery and calm intensity. During the second movement, despite some doubts in the winds, Mr. Tovey rearranged the group, chasing a non- accomplished touch of solemnity. The third movement, possibly the brightest moment of the evening, was an explosion of happiness and sincere positivism. Here Ms. Fried sounded profound and inspired, with humanity, drawing some remarkable phrases. The audience was delighted with a perfect connection between orchestra and soloist.
After the break, we had the opportunity to explore new sonorities with Biennale Snapshots, a compilation of five works by the Canadian composer Vivian Fung. We found emptiness and superficial pomposity in the first movement, entitled ‘Breath Song’. The saturated second movement ‘Tree’ brought good ideas and depicted a hopeless landscape. However, it seemed somehow rambling and speculative. We found a sensual and ethnic third movement ‘Graffiti Mashup’, based on the Granville Island Giants. It was attractive and suggestive. The fourth movement ‘Interludium: Water Rising’, with some senseless crescendi, was an example of capricious vacuity. Finally, the last movement ‘Grass’, perhaps the more challenging and interesting, gave a sensation of contained anxiety. Biennale Snapshots was received by the audience with a cold applause.
The last work of the program corresponded to Richard Strauss. His Suite from the opera Der Rosenkavalier was played by the VSO with too much enthusiasm. Such an outpouring intensity hided the intimate delicacy of the part, resulting in a version not detailed enough and in that sense far from the composer’s purposes.
The VSO starts its new season with renovated energy and willing to take risks, in order to delight wider audiences. Led by Mr. Tovey, it is clear that this orchestra will provide us with many evenings of fine music.