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MCO delivers beauty in the bleak

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AUDIENCE members leaving the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra's first offering of 2012 at Westminster United Church Tuesday night were likely more pensive than usual on their way back to their cars.

In a program of intense and brooding music, the MCO and guest conductor Scott Yoo provided us with a bit of a musical education, with music many of us had seldom, if ever heard.

Canadian composer Serge Arcuri led the way with his 2001 work for solo violin and orchestra, Épisodes. Concertmaster Karl Stobbe filled the bill, showing his undeniable worth as soloist in this ever-changing piece. The first movement began slowly and mysteriously, as if warning of impending doom. It picked up speed and intensity, Stobbe playing galloping double stops that soon melted into a lamenting cry. This was solid, assured playing.

Seamless legato highlighted the second movement, while in the third, there was an urgency in both orchestra and soloist, as they pounded through frenzied passages. Arcuri, unlike many 21st century composers, still employs the violin's best assets. With an accomplished soloist like Stobbe, this carried listeners along, maintaining their interest in the unpredictable storyline. The gentle ending seemed a fortunate resolution of sorts.

Petite Symphonie Concertante composed by Swiss composer in 1945 by Frank Martin opened with a tone row la Schoenberg from one half of the orchestra. Enter the other half in a more traditional style and together they produced a densely textured, quite indefinable sound. We all sat up a little straighter and perked our ears.

Heidi Gorton's harp and William Bonness on harpsichord added an almost eerie quality, while Donna Laube's piano was grounding in its playful line.

Yoo pronounced this to be one of his favourite pieces and he worked like ringleader, managing the two groups and soloist with ease and his signature energy. There were some lovely lyrical moments -- in particular Dan Scholz's heartfelt viola line, lovely work on harp by Gorton and Stobbe's poignant solos.

This is fearless music that gives plenty for musicians and listeners to sink their teeth into -- a fine marriage of disparate styles resulting in something fresh and satisfying.

Last and perhaps most moving was Richard Strauss' monumental Metamorphosen. Written as a lament over the wartime destruction of the Munich, Dresden and Vienna opera houses and what Strauss felt to be irreparable damage to German culture, it is both technically and emotionally exhausting. Scored for 23 strings, it began with a gorgeous theme in the violas and cellos that was unmistakably melancholy.

Yoo and the MCO gave this their all. You could see it as well as hear it -- and there's no other way to give this incredible work its due. It was an opportunity for the musicians to pour their hearts into their playing and that's just what they did. Relentless until the dismal end.

Concert Review

Manitoba Chamber Orchestra

Westminster United Church

Jan. 10 attendance: 450

four stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2012 D6

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