Monday, January 19, 2015

Tchaikovsky at the HPO

We took in the Hamilton Philharmonic’s first concert of 2015 last night (Sat. Jan. 17) in the Great Hall at Hamilton Place. The second balcony was occupied by students and alumni of McMaster University as the orchestra continues its practice of reaching out to the wider community in an effort to build their audience and subscriber base.

The conductor was Music Director Candidate Theodore Kuchar. He’s presently the Music Director and Conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic and the Reno Chamber Orchestra. He has, in the past, performed the same role for the Janáček Philharmonic (formerly the Czech Radio Orchestra) and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. He’s also conducted recordings of more than 90 CDs.

The program was comprised of the overture to Verdi's La Forza Del Destino, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. On this occasion there were twenty violins to balance the full orchestral winds and percussion. 

They opened with the Verdi overture. There was good definition in the playing. Verdi’s counterpoint between the sections was clear. However, the brasses and percussion overwhelmed the strings when they played together. The overall effect seemed to lack cohesion and didn’t seem sufficiently lyrical. The oboe solos were handled nicely Jon Peterson.

I’d taken the precaution of listening to the unfamiliar Glazunov piece ahead of time. It’s in four movements but is played without a break. My impression at the end of the performance was the same as I’d had after listening to the recording. It’s sophisticated music, craftsmanly and well worked out, but not very memorable. The influential composer Rimsky-Korsakov was Glazunov’s teacher and Glazunov succeeded him as Principal of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Corey Cerovsek

Soloist Corey Cerovsek played beautifully although not as impressively as Blake Pouliot had done with the Mendelssohn concerto a couple of months ago. Some might be troubled by Cerovsek’s pronounced vibrato, although I was not. This concerto includes some marvellous overtone passages and also stretches of impressively executed double stops. 

After the break, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s final symphony. I don’t enjoy Tchaikovsky’s music as I did when I was a young person and hadn’t a very wide musical experience. It is ideal music for someone just beginning to listen to serious music. Today I find it overly sentimental and unbearably repetitive. These are precisely the characteristics that appeal to those who love this music.

For all that, the orchestra made a fine sound throughout. The strings produced the lush sound the music requires particularly when the violins played unison lines. First bassoonist Melanie Eyers made the most of her solos. First clarinetist Stephen Pierre played convincingly throughout the concert. 

Some of the audience applauded each movement. This was especially annoying after the third movement march which ends triumphantly and should lead quietly and seamlessly into the tragic Adagio Lamentoso of the finale. I suspect many in the hall thought the symphony had ended. I wonder whether they were surprised or disappointed when the orchestra began to play again.

Altogether this was the least engaging of the four concerts we have heard this season although some of that is attributable to personal taste. Tchaikovsky is back in the next concert with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, much shorter than a symphony and programmatic to boot. There will be a scene from the Berlioz Romeo et Juliette. Finally, they’re playing the First Suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Ballet. It’s a monument, an important work in the 20th Century orchestral repertoire. That, I’m really looking forward to!

Hamilton Philharmonic
Romeo and Juliet
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Great Hall
Hamilton Place 

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