Out of the crucible of battle have sprung countless works of art throughout the ages, with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra highlighting several of those musical juggernauts with its latest (B)eyond Classics program, Of Our New Day Begun: Mozart, Shostakovich and Omar Thomas.

Out of the crucible of battle have sprung countless works of art throughout the ages, with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra highlighting several of those musical juggernauts with its latest (B)eyond Classics program, Of Our New Day Begun: Mozart, Shostakovich and Omar Thomas.

Saturday night’s program led by Daniel Raiskin also featured WSO principal bassoonist Kathryn Brooks performing Mozart’s sole surviving bassoon concerto penned in 1774 but notably only discovered in 1934, Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major, K. 191, providing a kinder, gentler counterpoint to the more driving selections.

The evening opened with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 25, popularly known as the Classical, composed in the looming shadows of the 1917 Russian Revolution, that unfolds as a surprisingly genteel four-movement work inspired by such 18th-century composers as Mozart and Haydn.

Raiskin led the players through a bright, crisp opening Allegro that nonetheless lagged in energy during its quieter moments, before gradually picking up steam towards the end of the movement. It’s sometimes difficult to get a full section of violinists rowing, er, bowing in the same direction and the beginning of the second movement, Larghetto, suffered slight intonation problems and a lack of cohesion. However, by the third, an unusual Gavotte in lieu of the typical Minuet, the orchestra had found its footing, with a buoyant delivery before the finale crackled with energy.

Then it became time for Brooks to take the stage. The player appointed principal in 2018, and first joined the WSO in 2013 as Second Bassoon immediately displayed her poised, assured playing during the opening Allegro, tossing off the charming confection often used as an audition test piece with aplomb. She also proved that her instrument, long maligned as the clown or buffoon of the orchestra, in truth, possesses the expressive soul of a poet, with her warmly mellow tone singing through the slower movement, Andante ma Adagio, her innate lyricism evidenced right to the ends of her well-supported phrases.

The finale, Rondo, further showcased her virtuosic technique, as she skipped through rapid-fire runs, neatly executed trills, and leapt two plus octaves without — literally — missing a beat. The only mar became her towering music stand that inadvertently became a barrier between the soloist and audience of 568, with the exception of her spot on cadenza passages that immediately had greater presence and thrust, with her performance garnering an enthusiastic standing ovation.

After intermission came the WSO premiere of Thomas’ Of Our New Day Begun, composed in 2015 in honour of the "nine beautiful souls" whose lives were taken by a domestic terrorist while attending the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. The American composer anchored the one-movement work with Lift Every Voice and Sing, a.k.a. the Black National Anthem, that propels the piece with haunting authenticity.

This visceral work that would be right at home on the Winnipeg New Music Festival stage becomes both an elegiac homage to the dead, as well as a call to arms for healing and hope, including the players and maestro stomping their feet, clapping, and singing fragments from the hymn with a palpable commitment to Thomas’ score. Outbursts of brass, bluesy jazz licks, and an insistent tambourine, evoking a gospel revival meeting build tension throughout, only briefly abating before a final, thundering timpani roll underpinned by the chorus of marching feet; creating a deeply moving, affecting piece that should be heard again — and soon.

Not to be outdone, Shostakovich’s original String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110, that later morphed into this concert’s fuller Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this orchestra is back after, last season’s necessarily more skeletal offerings. An impassioned maestro drove his players hard throughout the five-movement work infused with its "DSCH" motive derived from four letters of the composer’s name, first heard as a sinuous solo by concertmaster Gwen Hoebig. This barnburner, also featuring a blazing solo by principal cellist Yuri Hooker, led to another ovation by the mostly older crowd, clearly moved by this deeply reflective work that still bellows and bites as sharply as when penned in the deadly aftermath of war.

For virtual tickets or further information, visit: https://wso.ca/

Holly.harris@shaw.ca

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