Friday, July 25, 2014

Enigma Variations, Grieg Piano Concerto at the Brott Festival

It was to be a special occasion, a concert in honour of the Maestro's and pianist's birthdays, each ending with a 0 (zero).

So we went last night (Thurs. July, 24) to the MacIntyre Theatre at Mohawk College to hear  Boris Brott conducting the National Academy Orchestra and to hear Valerie Tryon play the Grieg Piano Concerto.

The audience learned in Jacqui Templeton Muir's introduction, that she and Valerie Tryon (her sister) have been friends with Boris since 1971 when he was the Conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic. Valerie has since played in each of the 27 seasons of the Brott Music Festival.

Valerie Tryon

Valerie Tryon has had a remarkable performing career performing as a recitalist and as a soloist with major orchestras since her student debut in 1953. She will leave for England shortly to begin yet another recital tour. Her recording of De Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will shortly be released. Since 1971 she has been based in Hamilton and had a long association with MacMaster University.

The National Academy Orchestra was founded by Brott in 1988. This isn't a student orchestra in the usual sense. It is described in the program as a "professional training orchestra", and is made up of advanced students and young professional players who haven't yet got an orchestral job. Judging from the wonderful sound and accuracy of the playing, Maestro Brott must have his choice of the crème de la crème of young Canadian instrumentalists. As well, the principal string seats are occupied by professional players. For example the concertmaster is Alex Read, principal first violinist of the Montréal Symphony.

They opened with a stunning performance of Elgar's Enigma Variations. The work is in 14 variations which are character pieces describing individuals from Elgar's family and inner circle. Whatever they are variations upon was never made clear by Elgar and no theme is ever presented. Apprentice conductor Ben Kepes led the first six sections and then Maestro Brott took over for the next eight.

The slow movements (including the celebrated Nimrod) are built upon a string choir foundation and the sound of the strings of this orchestra was magical. The several viola solos were played beautifully by Kitchener Waterloo Symphony principal Natasha Sharko. There were also passages of tutti brasses which, in this hall, could nearly lift you from your seat.

In the second half, they began with Psalm by Srul Irving Glick. The piece was commissioned by Brott for the HPO in 1971. It has some interesting contrasting passages but their relationship, one to the other, is not clear and the work, in spite of the detailed preparation and clear performance, seemed rather shapeless. Special mention must be made of trumpeter Kathyrn Clarke and hornist Jonathan Astley both of whom soloed to fine effect.

The final scheduled work was the Grieg. It is among Valerie Tryon's favourite concerti and she played beautifully, sometimes delicately and at others times with great panache. The orchestra responding thrillingly in their tutti sections. Principal cellist and Hamiltonian Rachel Mercer played her solos nicely with a fine full sound.

When it was all over and the audience had stood and clapped in unison at Brott's urging, Valerie Tryon returned and played, for her adoring audience, Lizst's Liebestraum #3, perhaps the best known of that master's solo piano works .

If you enjoy music for piano and orchestra, you'll want to hear Ian Parker play Rachmaninoff (The Second Piano Concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.) The orchestra is also performing the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. That's on Thursday, August 7th at the MacIntyre Theatre. The link in paragraph three will take you to the website.

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