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Violinist's talent trumps unfocused presentation

Plum Coulee's Siemens shows remarkable versatility

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She's come a long way from her days singing in the Mennonite Children's Choir wearing demure pinafore dresses and knee socks, but Plum Coulee native Rosemary Siemens has made a name for herself as a versatile musician of all genres.

The 34-year-old Siemens plays the violin with a degree of panache, and she demonstrated her style in the debut performance of Winnipeg-born Victor Davies' violin concerto The Journey with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Sunday night. The work was written for Siemens for this very occasion, commissioned by Elmer and Hilda Hildebrand in honour of the 50th anniversary of Golden West Radio, the concert sponsor.

Dressed in a sparkling full-length gown, Siemens made the most of this three-movement work comprised of snippets of folk tunes and hymns, including Bringing in the Sheaves, Onward Christian Soldiers and the one saving grace, suitably Amazing Grace. More than anything, the breaks in the score to change styles from sentimental to country twang to conga rhythms only served to turn this an inconsistent and hard-to-follow mishmash.

Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate is to be commended for holding everything together, but on more than one occasion, through no fault of his or that of his musicians, momentum waned as did this listener's interest.

Crafted to demonstrate Siemens' renowned versatility, this vehicle showed she can do sentimental to the hilt, with a solid, resonant tone, but her touch was too light for the forceful Latin themes, that begged her to dig in more to make them effective.

Amazing Grace in the second movement showed Siemens at her most genuine and the WSO played with subtle peace. Davies then chose to employ a section of harmonic progressions that were curiously dark and gloomy.

This was a disappointing journey for some, although the audience was most enthusiastic.

Edmonton-based pianist Leanne Regehr followed in her teacher Irmgard Baerg's footsteps, masterfully performing the popular Mennonite Concerto, which Baerg debuted in 1975 and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra.

And while this work is also based on hymns, it is much more cohesive than The Journey, with sections melding fluently. Regehr played with admirable strength and dedication, moving from intense passages to quieter, more lyrical ones with ease and polish.

The concerto opens joyfully and the WSO sounded at its most lively.

Regehr's patience and beautiful pauses were highlights of Theme and Variations and her fingers flew deftly though the rambunctious passages.

The evening began with the massive Mennonite Festival Chorus in full voice, singing Mennonite Hymns Medley arranged by Toronto composer Mike Janzen. Janzen applied a modern flair to some old favourites and veterans that these choristers are, their balance was spot on. Mickelthwate guided the WSO through the expressive and dynamic peaks and valleys with sensitivity and dynamism.

Concert Review

Mennonite Concertos

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Centennial Concert Hall

Dec. 2 Attendance: 1783

***1/2 out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2012 D3

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