Dynamic duo captivates crowd

Classics program reunites WSO maestro, Bulgarian violinist for enthralling performance


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Good things come in threes, as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) presented a trio of classical-music pillars during its inaugural concert of the new year: Bach, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/01/2019 (1424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Good things come in threes, as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) presented a trio of classical-music pillars during its inaugural concert of the new year: Bach, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

But its latest Classics program also reunited two modern-day musicians whose rapport is palpable: acclaimed Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova and Russian-born conductor Daniel Raiskin. The former marked her WSO debut in February 2017 under then-guest maestro Raiskin’s baton, while the latter was formally appointed the 71-year old orchestra’s music director last spring.

Friday night’s program featured the award-winning violin dynamo performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, considered a cornerstone of the solo violin repertoire and known for its dazzling pyrotechnics. Needless to say, many have tackled this musical Mount Everest since its 1844 première in Leipzig, Germany; it’s always fascinating to see — and hear — exactly how an artist chooses to make it their own.

Violinist Bella Hristova will perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at its Classic Series concerts this weekend. (Lisa Marie Mazzucco photo)

In this case, after the brief orchestral introduction that requires a soloist to leap into the limelight almost the moment they come onstage, Hristova immediately took full command of the opening movement, Allegro molt appassionata. Her pitch-perfect intonation and seamless phrasing proved she had this masterwork well in hand, as she proceeded to perform the three-movement piece with a focused intensity and plenty of dramatic flair.

After the final lone, sustained note (performed by intrepid principal bassoon Kathryn Brooks) that bleeds into the second movement, Andante, the soloist next showed the audience of 1,119 the fuller colours of her rich tonal palette, including rendering its lyrical melodic lines with limpid sweetness heightened further by her quicker vibrato.

Then it became time for fireworks. Hristova’s bravura shone most brightly during the spark-flying finale, including performing nearly non-stop figuration, skipping runs and sweeping arpeggios performed with lightness of bow and tossed off as easily as child’s play. Raiskin held a taut rein on the orchestra, matching the violinist note for note with each entry crisp and clean.

As expected, Hristova received a roaring standing ovation with loud cheers and a demand for three curtain calls. That led to her all-guns-blazing encore of Petar Hristoskov’s arrangement of traditional Bulgarian folk dance Ratchenitsa, with its constantly shifting metres, fiddle drones and rugged down-bowing eliciting further gasps from the appreciative crowd.

The concert opened with J.S. Bach’s sprightly Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, which featured another fine trio: WSO principal trumpet Chris Fensom, joined by section mates Paul Jeffrey and Isaac Pulford. Their tight harmonies and crisply executed flourishes proved their mettle as the WSO’s top brass, the threesome only given brief repose during the five-movement work’s famous Air on the G String.

It was a pleasure to hear Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048, brought to life as an intimate baroque chamber ensemble on this larger stage, with Raiskin, sans podium, leading 10-string players, as well as harpsichordist Michelle Mourre’s continuo. The group (mostly) stood upright, allowing them to embody Bach’s music, thus making their performance even more engaging for the viewer, including a lightning-quick finale that at times risked running off the rails.

The evening ended with Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120, a gale force of symphonic authority, from its dramatic opening chord through to its triumphant finish. Kudos to concertmaster Gwen Hoebig for her sensitively executed solo during the second movement Romanze: Ziemlich langsam. Last heard on this stage in 2004, this fire-and-fury work’s latest incarnation led to the night’s second ovation and more cheers from the clearly enthralled crowd.

The concert repeats Saturday night, 8 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

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