PERFECT BAROQUE? SYMPHONY NOVA SCOTIA IN ST. ANDREW’S UNITED CHURCH, HALIFAX, ON SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2013.Well, what’s perfect? In a sense everything is. But this concert combined first-rate programming with first-rate performers and not much to beg for in the way of wishing any part of the performances themselves better.
Symphony Nova Scotia concertmaster Robert Uchida led the small string orchestra. The violins dispensed with chairs and stood to play the program of Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart.
The soloists came from within the ranks of the players. Uchida himself was featured on lead violin in Mozart’s lively Divertimento in F Major, K138/125c, so big a favourite with string orchestras that it’s almost a requirement for being taken seriously.
It’s not hard to hear why that is and the first and third movements, marked Allegro and Rondo Presto, are usually played, as here, at break-neck tempos. I think they might have gained something if they had taken them a little less briskly. Mozart always tempts modern players to exceed.
But it was brilliantly if a little superficially done and certainly a dependably effective concert opener.
Next Uchida and oboist Brian James, SNS’s fine second oboe and English Horn player, soloed in Bach’s C Minor Concerto for Violin and Oboe. James’s sound was elegant, well-groomed and the duo nicely balanced and comfortable.
Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto is a concerto gross in fact, with three soloists: violin, trumpet and recorder. If you anticipated a dominating trumpet you would be right, but only because Richard Simoneau, playing the difficult piccolo trumpet, is such a stunning virtuoso.
Simoneau not only balanced out the milder timbres of the quicksilver violin (Uchida) and the sweetly cooing alto recorder (SNS bassoonist Ivor Rothwell), but flared up in virtuosic solar flares that drove the audience mad with delight. Prolonged applause, shouts of approval, and even the pounding of winter boots on the floor followed the final flame-throwing.
After intermission, SNS piccoloist Christine Feierabend tackled the tricky passage work of Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C Major, bringing off a coup de force of art and technique, and expertly meeting the hardest challenge of this sparkling work, that there is no place to breathe in the note-dense phrases.
Baroque composers treated solo winds like keyboard players, leaving it up to them figure out how to integrate the breath but absolutely requiring them to phrase long passages without drawing attention to themselves.
Feierabend was phenomenal.
The concert ended with flutist Jack Chen subbing as he has been doing all winter, for SNS principal Patricia Creighton, sidelined with a wrist injury. The work, Bach’s Orchestra Suite No. 2 in B Minor is an eight-movement flute (or recorder) concerto beginning with an Overture almost as long as the other seven movements together.
Chen plays like a champion, not a substitute. His sound is round and thick, his technique light and fluent, and at times in the Overture, his modern, silver flute tone took on the cooing timbre of the one-keyed baroque wooden flute.
As expected, in the Badinerie, the last movement of the Suite, Chen gratified expectations by blitzing through it like a Chinese fire-cracker to bring both the piece and the perfect concert home.
The strings were wonderfully kind to their fellow musicians as they stepped forward and took charge of the moment.The spirit of friendliness in SNS is warm. And, fine as the woodwinds and brass are, the strings make them sound even better.