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Elliptical salute to Mario Bernardi

Southam Hall, National Arts Centre
11/19/2015 -  & November 20, 2015
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525 – Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
Ana Sokolovic: Golden slumbers kiss your eyes...

David D.Q. Lee (countertenor), Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Capital Chamber Choir, Ewashko Singers, Laurence Ewashko (chorus master)
The National Arts Centre Orchestra, Johannes Debus (conductor)

J. Debus (© Michael Cooper)

This week’s subscription pair by The National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) is an elliptical tribute to the orchestra’s founding principal conductor, the late Mario Bernardi (1930-2013). Bernardi was among the most respected Mozart conductors of his day and his thirteen-year tenure (1969-1982) was marked by regular performances of Mozart Symphonies and Concerti, and exceptional productions of the composer’s operas, notably Le nozze di Figaro and Idomeneo. As well, Bernardi was instrumental in commissioning a range of work from both established and emerging Canadian composers. Bernardi was Canadian born (Kirkland Lake, Ontario) however his perspective as a musician was always global – his early training encompassed Italy, Canada and the UK and by the late 1950s he’d become well known in Toronto, New York and London as a rising opera conductor.

NACO’s program this week is an ingenious salute to Bernardi’s macro curriculum vitae, with two Mozart orchestral classics bookending the premiere of a striking new choral work, Golden slumbers kiss your eyes..., by the Serbian-Canadian composer Ana Sokolovic which was definitely the hit of the evening.

Golden Slumbers... is a seven movement multilingual work, almost a tone poem, uniting eight texts taken worldwide from folk poetry, lullabies, a love song and more. Lasting close to half an hour, the work opens with a slow repeated bass motif as foundation for an elaborate solo of A la claire fontaine sung by countertenor David DQ Lee. It was a striking and attractive launch for the work, hampered only by the soloist’s limited projection beyond the orchestra. Mr. Lee fared better as the work progressed, especially in Tarentella del Gargano, Guter Mond and the penultimate Durme, durme during which his singing was echoed by muted brass.

Ms. Sokolovic’s orchestration is always highly colorful, using a range of exotic percussion instruments, everything from a Steinway ‘D’ grand piano and harp to maracas and the clapper, as well as violins played like banjos, and large chorus. The chorus more than once was redolent of David Arnold’s score for the 1994 movie Stargate. Golden Slumbers... certainly is a colorful, elaborately structured and well thought out composition. Its overt drama is decidedly operatic with texts evoking imagery which almost seemed to want to be staged.

Guest conductor Johannes Debus proved an ideal choice for this composition. German born and trained, this youthful maestro is currently Music Director for Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company (where Mario Bernardi had once been a regular).

Debus was in his element also in the two Mozart works, even if Eine kleine Nachtmusik was a tad on the heavy-footed side. The Symphony No. 39 which closed the evening was exceptional. Mr. Debus drew a consistently warm sonority from the players with a decidedly Viennese sound, made evident from the chordal opening contrasting with delicate filigree strings. The conductor brought a stately, almost operatic mood to dialog in the third movement, Menuetto: Allegretto, and his handling of the strings in the Finale: Allegro at times anticipated Mendelssohn’s Symphonies. This performance, especially, was a fine tribute to the legacy of Mario Bernardi.

Overall, this was an excellent evening.

Charles Pope Jr.



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