The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO), conducted by the talented Alexandre Bloch, performed works by Messiaen, Haydn and Schubert at the Chan Centre in Vancouver. The evening included the appearance of the pianist Ingrid Fliter.
Inviting a new conductor to lead an orchestra is always a risky bet. A principal conductor knows better than anybody the strengths and weaknesses of their musicians and can accommodate the performances to the skills available. Thus, a guest conductor like Mr. Bloch is a good opportunity to test the skill of the orchestra under a more demanding situation. In general, it’s fair to say that the VSO accomplished a profound and attentive interpretation under the innovative baton of Mr. Bloch.
The first part of the concert included Les Offrandes Oubliees (The Forgotten Offerings), a piece composed in 1930 by Olivier Messiaen. It’s a spiritual and touching work which shows a clear influence of the Symbolism and the last Romanticism but with some strokes of the sophistication and spirituality which define the style of the composer. Les Offrandes Oubliees are a time for contemplation and the version of the VSO reached that goal with an attractive volume on the strings. A sublime love song (to a divinity?) sounded though the Chan Centre, creating an unreal atmosphere at the end of the piece.
The concert continued with Ingrid Fliter playing Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major, which brought the anecdote of the evening. Someone forgot to set the breaks of the piano and Ms. Fliter had to play a running grand piano during the first movement. The issue was just partially solved before the second movement, so the interpretation of the Argentine pianist had always a touch of uncertainty. In spite of an irregular use of the pedal, Fliter could show her virtuosity in front of a thankful public. She corresponded to the ovation with a piece out of the program, the beautiful Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 17 ‘The Tempest’, played with more passion than delicacy.
The second half of the evening was dedicated to Franz Schubert’s Ninth Symphony in C Major ‘The Great’. Here, our young conductor Alexandre Bloch demonstrated a gifted and fresh style. He managed to make symphony sound actual and warm, leaving apart that look of seriousness. Different from many other versions, Bloch’s Ninth didn’t feel as chiseled in marble but conversational and outgoing. The French conductor matched a perfect balance between instrumental families in the First movement, whereas in the second the orchestra sounded cheerful and exciting. Bloch inserted elegant dynamics, highlighting the phrases on the inspired VSO strings. The delicacy and fine intonation of the clarinet contrasted with some doubts in the trombones (including a wrong entrance), which spoiled part of the Fourth movement. Nevertheless, the final result deserved the warm approval from the audience. It was indeed a surprising and moving performance.
Bloch may be fully satisfied with the result and the Vancouverites proud of the VSO, which passed the test once again.