The concert hall is probably the last place you'd expect to find bloodsport. Yet the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Masterworks concert, Prieto Conducts Brahms, offered the musical equivalent with the gutsy, gypsy-inspired evening led by Mexican guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto creating a heart-pounding, visceral sonic experience.
Friday night's concert featured acclaimed Canadian violinist Erika Raum performing Bartók's Rhapsody Nos. 1 and 2 for violin and orchestra. Last performed by the WSO in 1964 yes, you read right, it's a mystery why it's taken so long for the first piece, and its companion rhapsody receiving its WSO première this weekend to be performed. Frankly, a second puzzle is also why there were so few in the audience Friday, with significantly more empty seats in the house than patrons.
Structured as two slow-fast paired movements, lassú-friss derived from the Hungarian dance verbunkos, the virtuosic pieces require bravura and commitment to the task at hand. The Toronto-based Raum exuded confidence with every bold stroke of her bow, digging in hard to the syncopated peasant themes that fleetingly pass by like village snapshots. She easily handled the ever-changing tempo changes, especially during the first rhapsody's dizzying finale.
The second piece is (slightly) more introspective in nature. The first movement showcased the soloist's skill at navigating the extreme register of her fiddle, with her pitch-perfect intonation intact, even during the piece's multiple stops. Raum and Prieto both held tight as the masterfully-orchestrated work barreled towards its fiery finish.
Composed in 1933, Kodály's Dances of Galánta is another kaleidoscopic romp of unrelenting intensity, inspired by infectious Hungarian gypsy dance that also pays homage to the composer's childhood home.
After effective opening solos performed by WSO principals Yuri Hooker (cello), Patricia Evans (horn), Bede Hanley (oboe) and Micah Heilbrunn (clarinet) -- who also treated us to an extended solo -- the piece catches fire with syncopated dance-like rhythms, rising trills and musical shouts from the brass. Prieto kept the enthralling piece cresting like a tidal wave, with his vigorous direction marked by dramatic thrusts, winks at the musicians, shoulder shrugs and even several mid-air leaps on the podium evoking the great Leonard Bernstein. The maestro's gestures embodied the spirit of this work, bringing it to life with the players responding passionately to his direction. Having made his WSO debut in January 2011, it is hoped this dynamo will be back, and soon.
The program also included Brahms' majestic Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90, composed in 1883, which is also his shortest of four. Once again, Prieto brought fluidity to the brooding, four-movement work, with its intensely lyrical third section, Poco allegretto, the romantic score of many a film a particular highlight.
The concert repeats tonight, 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.
-- Prieto conducts Brahms
-- Friday, March 1, Centennial Concert Hall
-- Attendance: 533
'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö out of five