JWR Articles: Radio Broadcast - CBC Symphony Hall (Guest Conductor: Joseph Silverstein) - July 28, 2002

CBC Symphony Hall

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C major sandwich lacks meat

Joseph Silverstein and the Winnipeg Symphony have had a happy relationship for some years—particularly when he served as artistic advisor during the search to replace Bramwell Tovey. It was my pleasure well over a decade ago to assist Silverstein with a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall where he fashioned together some impressive readings of Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff with 100 young musicians who had been assembled just for the occasion. I’ll never forget learning from the violin master how to execute “hairpin” dynamics by varying the speed of the bow rather than just exerting pressure on the string.

For Sunday’s broadcast I was far from my usual Acoustic Research speakers, within miles of the papal mass but safely out of the mud and rain. So what better work than Schubert’s Rosamunde to coax the sun back into the sky very nearly at the same instant as the dark, leisurely introduction threw off its Masonic minor mode—eager to establish the only major tonality that requires neither flats nor sharps.

And the drama was delivered with conviction and fine attention to detail, save and except for the first violins failing to agree on the location of super-G on their combined fingerboards: add the WSO to the list of this past season’s epidemic of unintended pain in the stratosphere!

The “Allegro Vivace” was jolly, zestful and fun. My only quibble was the common problem of the accompanying pizzicati in the low strings whose emPHAsis was backwards to the direction of the music for the simple reason that the lower octave tends to sound louder than its higher neighbours. Think 3-2-1 rather than 1-2-3 where 3 is the focal point of the pulse.

The ample solo opportunities for oboe and clarinet were thoughtfully delivered, with the clarinetist soaring above with seemingly effortless artistry. Both Silverstein and the CBC produced a fine balance throughout the broadcast, capturing the best from Centennial Hall’s potentially cavernous acoustics.

This boisterous opener roared to a convincing close with only the horns wondering if, next time, they might be wiser to deliver their brief solos with less enthusiasm.

There is an old adage that goes “If you’ve nothing good to say, better say nothing at all.” In the case of Korngold’s Concerto for Violin, I very nearly decided to hold my keyboard at bay. However, …

We were warned that this piece was “unabashedly romantic.” Add to that “undeniably pedantic” Soloist Scott St. John required two quarts of 10W30 to lubricate the incessant slides and ½ step appoggiaturas as he tried to find a theme that was actually developed rather than restated. Make no mistake, probably few violinists in the world could perform this saccharine slush with such conviction and skill. But the music’s best moments (second movement) only showed just how big an admirer of Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote Korngold must have been.

Thank goodness I was in view of a garden, for the two-time Academy Award winner’s soundscape needed some visual assistance to help wash down the B-grade tunes.

OK. Enough already! I think I’ve made my point, but can’t wait to hear St. John in repertoire more worthy of his considerable talent.

Our C Major sandwich was completed with Schubert’s “Great” Symphony. Silverstein presented a convincing reading that avoided the unwritten hysteria of the acceleration to the “Allegro ma no troppo,” but also sent the patrons home eight minutes early by ignoring the exposition repeats. The orchestra responded in kind but occasionally lapsed into complacency as the dotted rhythms lost their zip and morphed into unwanted triplets.

To my taste, the tempi were bang-on for every section except the Trio of Schubert’s most energetic ”Scherzo”; relaxing the pulse just a touch would have provided the perfect foil to the drive of its bookends.

The finale was tossed off a bit rough-and-ready but caught fire by the coda and earned every decibel of the audience’s thunderous applause. JWR

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Guest Conductor - Joseph Silverstein
Violin - Scott St. John
Rosamunde Overture - Franz Schubert
Violin Concerto - Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Symphony No. 9 in C Major, "The Great" D. 944 - Franz Schubert
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