The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra welcomed back Maestro Kazuyoshi Akiyama, its Conductor Laureate, in a concert celebrating our Central European roots in music.
The evening began with the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, K. 527. I had the good fortune last summer to attend a performance of Don Giovanni at Prague’s Estates Theatre, where the opera premiered. It was amazing that the orchestra for that performance was made up of only about 50 to 60 musicians, but in that acoustically ideal hall in Prague, Mozart’s music never sounded bigger or more dramatic.
That said, Akiyama’s reading of the famous overture had much to offer, from its dark and somber opening to the brisk and charming ending. Wanting to watch the Maestro working from close up, I had asked for seats on Row 3 of the hall. Under Akiyama’s hands, the music took on a three-dimensional quality, and orchestra played with great subtlety, elan and style.
Violinist Isabelle Faust joined the orchestra in a scintillating performance of Bartok’s Violin Concert No. 2. I had heard Ms. Faust before in a recital of Beethoven violin sonatas, and it was good to have had an opportunity to hear her as a concerto soloist. In this concerto, Bartok really exploited (in the best sense of the word) every facet of the violin’s possibility, from the almost savagely wild, to the most gentle and cantabile playing. Faust is a master violinist, in control of every aspect of her playing, from the rhapsodic opening of the first movement, to the lyrical middle movement, to the fireworks of the final movement. What was equally satisfying was Akiyama’s reading of the score, conjuring a lush orchestral fabric through which the solo violin was able to weave and made the performance complete. It was truly a collaborative effort between soloist, orchestra and conductor.
Although not as immediately accessible as the famous New World Symphony, or as charming and tuneful as the eighth symphony, Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 is, from a standpoint of musical craftsmanship, a superior work to its better-known siblings. According to Zubin Mehta, it is one of the more difficult works in the orchestral repertoire. Akiyama’s reading of this symphony was astonishing, and had a sense of totality and complete control from first note to last. In the rather Brahmsian 1st movement, I had rarely heard the VSO strings sound so lush and rich. The orchestral playing was especially beautiful in the solemn and tranquil second movement. The rhythmically tricky third movement was handled with panache by the orchestra, and in the dramatic final movement, with its blazingly triumphant ending, the orchestra truly sounded like the great ensemble that it is.
Attending a concert by Maestro Akiyama is like witnessing a lesson in pure musicianship.
In the last decade or more, every visit by this remarkable musician in has resulted in memorable performances. I was saddened to read that we won’t have him in our midst next season. I hope that the management of the orchestra would get their act together and book him for many appearances in the orchestra’s coming seasons.