Thursday, November 18, 2021

Resumption of Concert Life

It was with a tremendous feeling of excitement as I attended the first concerts in Vancouver since the pandemic. Even the smaller audiences and socially distanced seating could not detract from the experience of feeling the music as it was being made, without the aid of audio-visual equipment or computer screens.


I headed to Christ Church Cathedral to attend the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ concert entitled Silence and Music: Moving Stories and Remembrance, their post-COVID version of their annual Remembrance Day concert. Music Director Paula Kremer returned to lead this outstanding choir in a programme highlighting the emotions of loss and remembrance. 


From the opening In Memoriam by Ruth Watson Henderson, the singing of this choir never fails to move one’s senses. Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria was equally affecting, as was Vaughan Williams’ Silence and Music, with the composer’s unique blend of dissonance. Observing this season of remembrance, the choir performed two perennial favourites – Dave Rosborough’s arrangement of In Flander’s Fields and William Henry Monk’s Abide with Me, as arranged by Leighton, Worthington, Kremer and Rosborough. Soloists Emily Cheung and Sarah McGrath shone in Eriks Esenvalds’ O Salutaris hostia. As always, the acoustics of Christ Church Cathedral lends itself well to the sound of this choir.


Certainly, an auspicious beginning to the year’s concert season.


Then it was off to the Orpheum Theatre for a piano recital by Behzod Abduraimov, under the auspices of the Vancouver Recital Society. Things got off to a very promising start with two contrasting Scarlatti sonatas, B minor (K. 27) and D major (K. 96), highlighting Abduraimov’s beautiful sound and touch. The D major sonata was particularly effectively realized, evoking almost the sights and sounds of the changing of the guards at the royal palace in Madrid. I wasn’t sure if the repeats for each section was really needed, as the repetition did not really bring new ideas to what had already been so wonderfully played the first time around. 


Abduraimov launched into Schumann’s Kreisleriana (Op. 16) with a whirlwind of a tempo, but I was uncertain if that really added to the tension called for with composer’s instruction of Äuberst bewegt. Moreover, the opening tempo made it almost impossible to really observe Schumann’s Etwas bewegter in the Intermezzo II. For me, it was in the more intimate sections of the work, for instance, movement 2, 4, and 6. Paradoxically, the pianist’s facility at the piano took away some of the contrast and tension of the stormier sections of the work. It was a reading of Schumann’s luminous score that underscores the artist’s pianism and beauty of sound rather than the kaleidoscopic colours as well as the shifting between light and shadow that make this music so moving, or taking us into the composer’s inner world.


Abduraimov’s rendition of Mussorgski’s Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition) was spectacular, stunning and superhuman, harking back to the interpretations of Horowitz and Richter. This young man is born to play this work. Although it is now difficult to erase from one’s mind the sounds of Ravel’s masterful orchestration, but the young artist somehow made the score almost more colourful than it would have been possible with an entire orchestra. Even with the number of outstanding pianists today, Abduraimov’s virtuosity is nothing less than astounding. In Bydlo, he achieved an incredible buildup and excitement, that the climax was simply overwhelming. But it was more than virtuoso playing, but his ability to bring out the unique character of each “picture” that made his performance so memorable. I would, however, have loved to ask the artist why he skipped the Promenade immediately before Limoges. His playing of Catabombae and Con mortuis in lingua mortua was positively spooky. The sound he got out of the beautiful Steinway (courtesy of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) toward the end of Das Bogatyr-Tor filled the cavernous space of the Orpheum, no small achievement indeed. This was certainly a performance of Pictures at an Exhibition that would be difficult to top. 


The afternoon of Sunday, November 14th brought us a very different kind of recital – guitarist Milos and mandolinist Avi Avital gave a joint recital on the stage of the Vancouver Playhouse. The unlikely combination of the two instruments made for a very effective and sometimes moving performance. I found that Avital’s mandolin playing had greater projection and musicality than Milos’. The pieces by Bach and Philip Glass worked particularly well for the two instruments. Giovanni Sollima’s rhapsodic Prelude for Mandolin Solo sounded soulful and moving under Avital’s hands. Indeed, it was a masterful performance of this relatively new work. I did, however, find Milos’ playing of Albeniz’s justly famous Asturiassomewhat dry and lacking in passion and projection. The real highlight of the afternoon was the premiere of Mathias Duplessy’s three-movement Sonata for Guitar and Mandolin, giving equal prominence to both instruments. The slow middle movement was particularly engaging. A very enjoyable reprieve from the rainy Vancouver afternoon.


Although I did have my share of concert at the just-concluded Chopin Competition in Warsaw, it is certainly a good feeling to be able to attend live musical performances in one’s hometown. This weekend’s (sold out) Vancouver debut recital by pianist Federico Colli, presented by The Vancouver Chopin Society, promises to be equally memorable. Looks like the concert season is off to a very healthy start in Vancouver.




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