DAME Evelyn Glennie is undeniably unique. This ever-striving percussion virtuoso is not only one of the greatest living musicians of her time, but has branched out into composing, arranging, recording and teaching. Tuesday night marked her fifth appearance with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and the astonishing Glennie did not disappoint. In a program of baroque and contemporary works, she provided a rewarding and entertaining musical experience.
The orchestra was in top form, opening the evening with Zeitgeist (Spirit of Age) by Toronto composer Christos Hatzis. This substantial work intriguingly juxtaposes traditional baroque-like themes with new music, much of which is stormy and mysterious. Arresting in its unpredictability, its rhythmic appeal and the driving intensity conductor Anne Manson pulled from the orchestra made this a great opener.
Glennie took us back to the 17th century with Corelli's Sonata for Violin in D Minor, Op. 5, No.12 'La Folia,' transcribed for marimba and strings by Karl Jenkins of Adiemus fame. With two mallets in each hand, she achieved just the right variation of touch, at times caressingly gentle, later sharp and sonorous. She travelled up and down the huge instrument, with resonant tone that rang through the hall. The sensitively shaped cadenza was a showcase of dynamic variation.
Principal cellist Yuri Hooker joined Glennie for her transcription of Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor. While vibrant and well played, the first movement didn't gel. Balance was problematic, with solos almost inaudible. The marimba sounded hollow, not warm, Hooker's cello emerged less rich than usual -- instead rather edgy, and Will Bonness's harpsichord was all but lost in the mix. Instead of blending, the soloists seemed at odds with one another.
And yet, the following two movements were sublime, with Hooker's opening to the largo thoughtful and impeccably phrased. Glennie matched this perfectly and Bonness was able to make a more effective (and audible) contribution. Manson, with minimal movement, had the orchestra sounding fresh and lively in the final allegro and both soloists dug in mightily for an exciting reading.
Always a champion of new music, Glennie gave the world première performance of Montreal composer Michael Oesterle's Kaluza Klein for Vibraphone and Strings. Inspired by early 20th-century mathematicians Theodor Kaluza and Oskar Klein, this three-movement work is highly accessible and full of ideas. The first movement has a bouncy lightness, the orchestra providing a colourful backdrop for the brilliant shimmer of the vibraphone. The middle movement was pensive, while the finale was reminiscent of a beloved music box, percussive in a tinkly manner, using the strings' pizzicato as a counterpoint to Glennie's assertive melody. Oesterle, present for the performance, shows a true appreciation for the instrument, showing it off to full advantage.
The evening ended satisfyingly with a crisp reading of Glennie's vibraphone transcription of C.P.E. Bach's Flute Concerto in G Major. Clean, well-articulated notes flowed from Glennie's mallets and her ornaments were wonderful. Bravo to the MCO for its vivacious and bright reading -- it really stepped up for this work.
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
April 10, attendance: 899
Four stars out of five