The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Masterworks concert simply titled Measha could only mean one thing: Renowned Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman was in the house and about to hold court.
Friday night's diverse, all-20th-century concert featured the critically acclaimed soloist performing two selections with even maestro Alexander Mickelthwate seeming to fall under her spell at times.
The New Brunswick-born opera/concert singer has been hailed for her powerfully expressive voice and sultry delivery, garnering multiple awards, including a Juno for her 2008 CD Surprise. The versatile singer is equally known for her humanitarian and social causes, as well as having appeared as a judge on CBC's short-lived reality series Canada's Got Talent. The three weekend shows mark her première performances with the WSO.
Maurice Ravel's impressionistic song cycle Shéhérazade has not, remarkably, been performed here since Victor Feldbrill ruled the podium in 1964. Striding onstage in bare feet and a flowing teal gown, the exotic diva immediately launched into its first song (sung in French) Asia, which depicts a world traveller dreaming of foreign lands. Her languorous interpretation including buttery runs and spot-on intonation made this a wholly satisfying performance. She imbued the next The Enchanted Flute with heartfelt longing as she sang of hearing her lover's flute in the distance. The third, The Indifferent One also showed her to be well-controlled as she sang of unrequited love.
The second half of the program again brought the dynamo to the stage. She displayed her impressive versatility in American composer William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs, arranged for orchestra specifically for her. The short songs -- each a highly theatrical mini-drama -- tell their own story with the soloist fully inhabiting each as a communicative storyteller. As expected, the crowd leaped to its feet with cries of bravo, clearly touched by her warm artistry and innate ability to connect with her fans.
Shortly before composing his iconic score West Side Story, legendary American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. As a spontaneous combustion of jazz and classical influences, it is arguably one of "Lenny's" best works, which clearly portends greater things to come.
Mickelthwate immediately set a brisk tempo for the three-part work that pays homage to baroque musical forms, prelude and fugue. But that's where any resemblance stops. This work is a blazing fury of pounding drums, jazz piano runs and horn and saxophone ensembles sparring with each other as well as performing as tightly knit ensembles. This is an enthralling piece that deserves more performances -- and hopefully with the players better positioned onstage so they don't appear overwhelmed by a sea of empty chairs. Kudos to all players, with a special nod to principal bassist Meredith Johnson for digging in hard.
The concert also included the WSO première of Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No 2, Mysterious Mountain, Op. 132 that has become one of the Armenian-American's best-known works.
The program closed with George Gershwin's An American in Paris with Mickelthwate setting a sprightly tempo for the work that evokes Parisian life including squawking car horns.
The concert repeats tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall, 8 p.m.
Centennial Concert Hall
Four stars out of five