One of the greatest mysteries -- or miracles -- in classical music is how a profoundly deaf composer could create a work of such epic majesty and grandeur as the "Chorale" Symphony.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra capped off its Masterworks series with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, hailed by many as the greatest music ever penned. Last performed here in 2009, every concert where it is showcased becomes a major musical event, involving scores of singers who raise their voices to sing of universal brotherhood in Schiller's stirring Ode to Joy.
The three weekend concerts feature guest artists: Lara Ciekiewicz, soprano; Michele Bogdanowicz, alto-soprano; Edgar Ernesto Ramirez, tenor; and Justin Welsh, baritone, with the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir (Yuri Klaz, artistic director) and the Flin Flon Community Choir (Crystal Kolt, artistic director) led by WSO maestro Alexander Mickelthwate.
It's always fascinating to watch conductors at work, who share their own interpretive choices with the masterworks. It's also a thrill to hear community-based musicians sing for the sheer love of it, while making their own musical memories in front of our very eyes and ears.
Under Mickelthwate's baton, the four-movement work steadily grew in power and might, beginning with the spacious opening Allegro ma non troppo movement that led to an overly brisk Scherzo. Nevertheless, the quick tempo did create a certain momentum (albeit rushed), with the orchestral layers punctuated by bone-rattling timpani shots.
The third Adagio molto e cantabile received its requisite languid delivery, with its long, arching phrases seeming to suspend time itself.
Then it became time for the heavens to open with the sound of angels. The four soloists proved a well-matched ensemble during the finale, with their clear voices, and particularly Winnipeg dynamo Ciekiewicz's voice soaring over the entire orchestra. The moment the massed choir begins to sing is always well worth the wait, with Friday night's performance deserving its rousing standing ovation and repeated curtain calls.
The program opened with Ernest Bloch's Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra performed by principal cellist Yuri Hooker. Composed in 1916, Bloch intended the stringed instrument to represent ancient King Solomon while evoking the intense emotionality of Jewish music. The piece received its world premi®re at New York's Carnegie Hall, with its last WSO performance held in 1988.
Hooker took his audience on a soulful musical journey, from his opening rhapsodic lament through sweeping runs and contemplative commentary juxtaposed with the orchestra's lushly orchestrated textures. A few intonation problems in his upper register did not detract from an otherwise noble performance, as Hooker brought the piece to life while giving Solomon his eloquent voice.
The concert repeats Saturday night, 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.