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Tchaikovsky Redux

Southam Hall, National Arts Centre
02/04/2016 -  & February 5, 2016
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66: “Bluebird” Pas de deux (arr. Stravinsky) – Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 – Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, “Little Russian”
Karen Gomyo (violin)
National Arts Centre Orchestra, Cristian Măcelaru (conductor)

C. Măcelaru (© Sorin Popa)

An all Tchaikovsky program might seem guaranteed to please and excel. However, this week’s subscription pair by the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) with guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru, currently Conductor-in-Residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was a decidedly perplexing evening. Maestro Măcelaru, to give fair credit, kept the NACO players under taut, tight control, with solid intonation and (most of the time) impressive clarity. However, the brass and woodwinds almost continually overprojected.

The concert opened with the “Bluebird” Pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. Initially, listeners may have attributed the glaring imbalance to the arrangement by Igor Stravinsky, done in the 1940s for a small wartime orchestra and adapted from a piano reduction rather than Tchaikovsky’s orchestration which was unavailable. The sonic trend however continued with the celebrated Violin Concerto, though it’s a credit to guest soloist Karen Gomyo that her own projection and control were so highly finished that her Stradivarius sound always carried above the orchestra and well into Southam Hall. The performance’s highlight was the first movement cadenza in which the numerous high register pianissimo phrases did not have to do battle with the orchestra and this young artist’s spectacular virtuosity could be relished without intrusion.

After intermission, it was the “Little Russian” Symphony No. 2, a pleasant enough work which, however, doesn’t hold a candle to what Tchaikovsky accomplished in his later such compositions. The work uses a range of Russian folk and popular tunes – Down By Mother Volga dominates the first movement – and the result is the kind of coy charm which makes for a fine Pops Concert item. The third movement Scherzo offers light textures which hint at some of the composer’s ballet scores and his parallel movements for the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. Again however, brass and winds all but commandeered the performance, though strings played consistently well when they could be heard, and it was more of the same for the Finale which starts as if it could become a fugue, but Tchaikovsky couldn’t be bothered with the effort.

Not a great evening, though there were pleasant moments and it was genuinely rewarding to hear a brilliantly promising young violinist of Karen Gomyo’s calibre.

Charles Pope Jr.



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