The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Masterworks concert celebrated one of its own as longtime concertmaster Gwen Hoebig took the spotlight Friday night.
Recognized as one of Canada's top violinists, the Julliard School graduate is now in her 27th season with the WSO, having begun her tenure in 1987.
She's also notably its longest-serving concertmaster in its 66-year history -- and only its fourth. It's always a treat hearing this musical dynamo do what she does best, fresh off her solo performance of Max Richter's Four Seasons Recomposed given during last month's New Music Festival.
The two weekend concerts titled Bruckner 8 led by Alexander Mickelthwate feature the WSO première of Mozart's light-hearted Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 211 before delving into more epic waters with Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor.
Composed in 1775 as one of five violin concerti written in as many months, the second work brims with sunny spirits that only turns more thoughtful with its centre movement.
Sometimes, orchestra members who are being showcased as soloists are -- to be perfectly frank -- unable to rise to the occasion, more accustomed to the art of blending in that creates requisite, perfectly uniform sections the hallmark of any large-scale musical ensemble.
Not so for Hoebig, who immediately established a sense of star power from her striking gold-metallic gown to commanding stage presence. She immediately attacked the first movement Allegro moderato, easily handling its wide leaps and ornamentation that eventually led to her showy first cadenza filled with multiple stops.
At this point, the soloist appeared to drive the brisk tempo forward, initially set by Mickelthwate that nonetheless lagged mid-point.
In the following andante, Hoebig took listeners further into the Wunderkind's musical world, performing its languid theme with long-spun phrasing and sweet tone, with her final cadenza melting into the orchestra's response.
Finally, the third rondeau included skipping runs and rapid-fire figuration, with Hoebig's convincing performance leading to a standing ovation by the crowd with two curtain calls.
Then it became time for Bruckner's massive, Wagnerian-influenced symphonic work, considered one of the mightiest in the canon and the last the 19th-century Austrian composer completed.
Mickelthwate wisely prepared the crowd for its 90-minute performance, personally inviting them into the composer's "cathedral of sound" that includes a half-hour adagio. Composed in 1897, the four-movement work unfolds with grandiose themes and a dramatic forward thrust on par with Beethoven's iconic Symphony No. 9, the Choral.
Mickelthwate carefully guided the players throughout the first movement, Allegro Moderato, from its hushed opening that ebbs and flows with occasional tumultuous outbursts. The second, Scherzo including its deutscher Michel (German Michael) repetitive theme also received clear treatment. The evocative third movement cast a spell until power and fury broke out during the finale. Kudos particularly to the brass section for providing orchestral backbone with consistent crisp attack and tight ensemble playing -- with the ambitious concert also marking the first time the large-scale work has been performed by the WSO since 1981.
The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.