September 24, 2018

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Charismatic British cellist Colin Carr captivates crowd

Colin Carr pulled out all the stops by performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107 written in 1959 for Mstislav Rostropovich during the post-Soviet riptide of Stalinism. (Jen Doerksen / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Colin Carr pulled out all the stops by performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107 written in 1959 for Mstislav Rostropovich during the post-Soviet riptide of Stalinism. (Jen Doerksen / Winnipeg Free Press)

What better way to get the party started than to invite one of the most compelling classical artists of our time, world-class English cellist Colin Carr, to hold music fans spellbound?

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra launched its 2018-19 season Wednesday night with the eagerly anticipated return of the charismatic musician, who last graced this stage in 2015.

This time he pulled out all the stops by performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107, a viscerally gripping work composed in 1959 for virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich during the post-Soviet riptide of Stalinism, which quickly became an ideal conduit for Carr’s fierce artistry. The program was led by Anne Manson.

The Liverpool-born artist has a strong following in Winnipeg, and the crowd immediately burst into applause as soon as he took the stage with his beloved Matteo Gottfriller cello, made in 1730.

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What better way to get the party started than to invite one of the most compelling classical artists of our time, world-class English cellist Colin Carr, to hold music fans spellbound?

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra launched its 2018-19 season Wednesday night with the eagerly anticipated return of the charismatic musician, who last graced this stage in 2015.

This time he pulled out all the stops by performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107, a viscerally gripping work composed in 1959 for virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich during the post-Soviet riptide of Stalinism, which quickly became an ideal conduit for Carr’s fierce artistry. The program was led by Anne Manson.

The Liverpool-born artist has a strong following in Winnipeg, and the crowd immediately burst into applause as soon as he took the stage with his beloved Matteo Gottfriller cello, made in 1730.

Carr immediately got down to the matter at hand, tackling the opening Allegretto movement as though all his tomorrows depended on it. His unflinching commitment to the four-movement work grounded in technical bravura ensured the first section had all the power and forward thrust of a runaway train driven by its own sharp-edged "DSCH" motif — corresponding to four tonal pitches — despite a few initial synchronization issues between the orchestra, and slight balance problems caused by overzealous bassoons that were quickly resolved.

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra launched its 2018-19 season Wednesday with the return of English cellist Colin Carr. (Jen Doerksen / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra launched its 2018-19 season Wednesday with the return of English cellist Colin Carr. (Jen Doerksen / Winnipeg Free Press)

The subsequent Moderato allowed his soulful expressiveness to rise like cream to the top, including long-spun phrasing and burnished tones until the final, magical section in which the cello’s glassy harmonics seemed to dance with the celeste creating a delicate web of sound.

Then it became time for the extended cadenza that unusually comprises the entire third movement. Carr’s cello began in the brooding depths to ultimately scaling frenetic heights during the climax, displaying his ability to seemingly crawl right inside his notes while fully inhabiting each melodic utterance with a world-weary understanding.

His explosive return that introduces the finale Allegro con moto built momentum to the end, punctuated by the final dramatic, seven-note timpani strokes. Kudos also to MCO principal french horn Jessie Brooks for her bold, confident solo passages throughout the performance that serve as alter-ego to the cello’s voice, as well as principal oboe Caitlin Broms-Jacobs’s penetrating commentary.

As expected, audience members immediately leapt to their feet with loud cries of bravo, demanding three curtain calls from a beaming Carr, flanked by his equally enthusiastic orchestral compatriots.

Wednesday's program opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Charterhouse Suite, with the English composer’s music always evoking wind-swept moors and pastoral, sheep-filled landscapes. The performance teemed with the ebullient spirits of its Quick Dance movement, as well as a more eloquent Slow Air, including a wonderfully expressive violin solo by concertmaster Karl Stobbe, before drawing to a close with rugged finale Pezzo ostinato.

The night’s third offering, Leoš Janáček’s Idyll, for string orchestra was a 22-minute piece more fulsome in its folkloric nature, as well as its plaintive Adagio movement that unfolded as a lullaby not of comfort but sorrow, with Manson’s always clear, sensitive direction allowing it to rock with regret.

A last-minute program change to perform the two orchestral works back-to-back — with the Shostakovich last on the bill — created an oddly disconcerting homogeneity, without benefit of a headliner or one of the MCO’s wonderful contemporary commissions typically included during the first half that provide texture and contrast. Or perhaps it just boiled down to the fact that this crowd was here for one reason alone: to welcome Carr back to this stage as their beloved musical hero, whom we all hope will return — and soon.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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