A Triumphant Homecoming
Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra
Sarah MacDonald, organ
Yariv Aloni, conductor
Church of St. John the Divine
December 12, 2010
By Deryk Barker
"I should place an organist who is master of his instrument at the very head of all virtuosi".
The slight gender bias aside, I imagine that most of the audience of Sunday's excellent concert by the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra would have been inspired by the playing of soloist Sarah MacDonald - returning to her hometown "trailing clouds of glory" - to agree with Beethoven's pronouncement.
From the first bars of Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, MacDonald's playing grabbed the attention, whether in the dramatic opening chords, the nimble quicker music or the more atmospheric slower passages. Her fingerwork (and footwork) were exemplary, as was her choice of registration: nobody could be in any doubt that this was French music.
Yariv Aloni and his orchestra accompanied superbly, with first class intonation, some wonderful pizzicatos and nimble passagework. Nor should one overlook timpanist Kevin Grady's sterling contribution.
In fact, my only problem with the entire affair was the music itself: after hearing it in concert several times, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I really do not care for this work at all.
"Above all do not analyse my music - love it!" Poulenc once remarked. Sorry Francis, no can do...not even when it is performed this well.
Did ever a woman receive a more delectable birthday present than did Cosima Wagner in 1870, when she awoke on Christmas morning (which also happened to be her thirty-third birthday) to the strains of the first-ever performance (by a group of hand-picked musicians ranged up the stairs of the Wagner's villa near Lucerne) of what would later come to be known as the Siegfried Idyll? (Incidentally, there are a number of internet sites, notably the never-to-be-relied-upon-as-a-primary-source Wikipedia, which claim the event took place on December 24th. Cosima's diary makes it quite clear that it was the 25th.)
It was with the later, orchestral version - the earlier had been dubbed the "Tribschen" Idyll, after the Wagner's villa, the later version, and new title, came about as a result of Wagner's chronic shortness of cash - that Aloni and the GVYO closed the first half of Sunday's concert.
This is delicious, luscious music and by no means easy to play. The orchestra, overflowing the limited space available, for the most part played it very well indeed. Intonation was not always perfect, but it was close enough and there were some especially delightful wind passages.
Aloni kept the music flowing and shaped the piece gently but firmly. Gorgeous.
The two halves of the concert each opened with a shorter work, mainly scored for the brass, who would otherwise have spent an idle afternoon on the sidelines.
Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man - one of ten fanfares commissioned in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony (where today are the other nine, one wonders?) - is familiar fare, albeit mainly on record.
Anyone encountering the music "in the flesh" for the first time - and a number of Sunday's audience seemed to be - will probably be surprised at the sheer weight of the sound, particular those signature bass drum strokes; indeed, I noticed a number of people jumping in their seats at the music's opening.
Aloni directed the GVYO brass and percussion in a fine (not to mention extremely loud) performance; one to blow away the cobwebs, to be sure.
The only new music on the programme was GVYO alumnus Tazmyn Eddy's Brass Choir No.2, which opened the second half.
A nicely-wrought work, apparently inspired by the music of Debussy and Mahler (I detected a hint of the latter in the muted trumpet fanfares), it was short, to the point and very well played.
An exceptional afternoon's music making. Clearly the latest incarnation of the orchestra is a fine one and we can expect their next quartet-century to be every bit as rewarding and exciting as their first.