The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra presented a musical roller-coaster of six wildly eclectic works Saturday night with its latest (B)eyond Classics program: Mozart, Cimarosa & Bartok, led by WSO Associate Conductor Julian Pellicano.
The concert livestreamed from the Centennial Concert Hall notably showcased longtime principal flutist and undeniable WSO legend, Jan Kocman, now astonishingly in his 47th year (let that sink in); as well as relative "newbie," Alex Conway who began her tenure as second flute and piccolo in 2018.
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Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Mozart, Cimarosa & Bartók
Centennial Concert Hall via Livestream
Saturday, March 13
In a season-long series of featured soloists culled from the orchestra’s own ranks, the duo were given their moment to shine with a spark-throwing interpretation of Neapolitan treat, Cimarosa’s Concerto in G major for 2 Flutes & Orchestra. Notably, the weekend performance marked Kocman’s inaugural full performance of the three-movement work with orchestra, as well as Conway’s debut interpretation of the popular, 18th century ear-pleaser with both artists flanked by large, COVID-19 protective Plexiglass shields.
Despite the paradoxical, inestimable challenges of being widely separated while performing a closely knit, intricate work, both players rose to the challenge by skilfully playing off each other, taking turns as soloist and supporting player in the egalitarian work. They immediately displayed their technical prowess during the opening "Allegro," replete with quicksilver runs and tightly interwoven thirds, as well as infused the same movement including its cadenza with effervescent personality through clearly executed, idiomatic articulation, evoking the high spirits of the composer’s signature "opera buffa" style.
The central" Largo" brought greater lyrical contrast, with Kocman’s gorgeous singing tone performed on his gleaming, 14-karat rose gold flute built in 1950 matched note for note by Conway, before the pair unleashed even more pyrotechnics during the finale "Allegretto ma non tanto." Pellicano kept well apace with the skipping rondo; often appearing a kid in a candy shop leading this utterly charming confection from his ancestral Italian homeland.
The program opened with Mozart’s Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K. 546, originally inspired by J. S. Bach, and derived from the Wunderkind’s earlier Fugue for Two Pianos in C minor, K. 426, now arranged for string orchestra with an added "Adagio" introduction.
One thing that has become abundantly clear during this season of COVID-19 is how tough it is to hold a contrapuntal fugue together when (masked) players are seated two metres apart, and this performance suffered an overall lack of cohesion; invariably trudging its way to the finish line as though a marathon, not a race.
Another piece that should have resonated proved to be late Canadian composer Violet Archer’s Fantasy in the form of a passacaglia for Brass and Timpani. There are truly two types of works in the classical world: those that are to be admired as well-crafted artistic expressions; and others genuinely liked — or even adored — for their strongly communicative abilities. This one fell into the first category, despite the always spot on solo work by fine principal trumpet Chris Fensom, and the welcomed addition of principal timpanist Mike Kemp that added greater sonic texture to the mix.
John Dowland’s Suite from Lachrimae or Seven Teares for Brass Ensemble fared better with the seven-member WSO brass "cohort" weaving a tapestry of smoothly blended harmonies throughout.
Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances for String Orchestra, originally composed for solo piano is always an enthraller, with the WSO string players morphing into a rustic village band for its series of boot-stomping dances from Transylvania. Highlights included the Romanian Polka, and the two, final dizzying Quick Dances that nearly popped right out of our digital screens with Pellicano and his merry musicians digging in hard.
Samuel Barber’s Mutations from Bach in which the Baroque master’s Lutheran hymn Christe, du Lamm Gottes transforms or "mutates" into several contrasting arrangements became another, bringing the concert full circle while ending on a stately, dignified note in keeping with these thoughtful times.
The concert is available via livestream through today. For tickets or further information, visit: www.wso.ca.