In a program dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Selkirk settlers in Manitoba from Scotland, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra presented a concert entitled Scottish Symphony: A Selkirk Settlers Celebration.
In contrast to the history of the occasion, both guest conductor and piano soloist for Friday night's performance were astonishingly young. American conductor Joshua Weilerstein is just 24, and already assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. His youth was surpassed by Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, 19, winner of the Montreal International Music Competition in 2011.
In true pioneering spirit, Friday's audience was the first to sample Sid Robinovitch's four-movement Red River, written for this concert. Commissioned by the Seven Oaks Historical Society for the anniversary, the work is a historical tableau of the early days on the Red. Opening with an air of anticipation and adventure, the first movement colourfully portrays the river's flow and the creatures near it as expertly executed by the woodwinds, glockenspiel and harp. Weilerstein's direction was fluid and confident, as if he'd conducted this many times.
The second movement is excitingly urgent, full of rhythmic drive in the low brass and timpani. But the third movement, Reminiscence, truly touches the heart. A simple but beautiful melody was played with tenderness by harpist Richard Turner and enhanced by Jan Kocman on flute and Cristian Markos on cello. This is a true gem of a piece that we will want to hear often.
Rana took us by gentle storm in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major Op. 15. She played with a luminescent lightness that showcases the lovely simplicity of the central melody. Cascading runs rippled from her fingers -- the perfect foil for the orchestra's power. Rana's style is one of pristine clarity, crafting every note into its own separate little jewel.
The Largo was achingly lovely, Rana approaching it with great patience, giving it a deliberate, thoughtful reading. She breathed her interpretation into the music with soft hands and a calm touch. Weilerstein conducted the finale with jaunty vigour and the orchestra responded. Rana made this movement sing and while one might ask for a little more fire from her at times, this was nonetheless a flawless performance.
At press time, the program was concluding with Mendelssohn's Symphony No.3 in A minor (Scottish). Weilerstein infused the opening movement with life, evocative of roiling water. The WSO charged forward fearlessly, quieted down for a moment for some woodwind cameos, then grew stormy again. This was a spine-tingling rendering.
The concert repeats this evening at 8 p.m. and, weather permitting, at 3 p.m. Sunday in Brandon.
Scottish Symphony: A Selkirk Settlers Celebration
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Centennial Concert Hall
Nov. 9 Attendance: 828
Four stars out of five