Hats off to the CBC for bringing last November’s performance by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra to the nation’s airwaves. This varied program proved once more that the small-orchestra repertoire can be just as satisfying as its romantic-rich competitors, if only the public would venture out in large numbers to partake of music by non “brand-name” composers. Throughout the entire broadcast, the MCO provided unquestionable commitment and musicianship, showing once again how fortunate we are to have an ensemble of this calibre in the heart of the country.
Guest Conductor Marc David (also music director of the Newfoundland Symphony) teamed up with pianist David Jalbert (cross-reference below) for two works that, stylistically, couldn’t have been further apart.
Their first collaboration was Bach’s F Minor Concerto. As the media-described heir apparent to Glenn Gould and André Laplante, Jalbert has large shoes to fill. Unfortunately, in the first movement the impression was more like boots with a too-heavy-by-half approach. It was fully three-quarters of the way in before the predominant brittleness vanished, leaving the lines to find rather than push their way into our ears. The oft-transcribed “Largo” was affable rather than affectionate; it was a losing proposition for Jalbert to attempt matching his left-hand octaves with the same texture as the pizzicato strings.
The “Presto” fared best, requiring only a shade more zest and nimbler post-tie execution in the violins to lift this performance from good to great.
The seldom heard Martinů Concerto that followed was an entirely different matter. From the opening exclamation point, jazzing its way down to a driving, uneasy landscape filled with punchy ostinatos and biting counterpoint, it was obvious that this reading would yield an exceptional result. David and Jalbert were finally on the same wavelength, the former guiding his able charges through this dramatic score while his colleague knew precisely when to lead, follow or join the tympani and complete the percussion section.
The haunting second movement proved to be the musical glue of the whole. After the near-perfect opening statement and the literal stretching of the violins to the heavens, the darkest ideas of the piece were ominously set up by the magnificent lower strings then seamlessly placed in Jalbert’s sensitive hands. Once there, the soloist pushed and pulled with forethought and sculpted the inner tension with finesse. Coming back a second time he unlocked and exquisitely shared the composer’s underlying rage, further unleashed with frightening trills that required the balm of the strings, then the tympani’s half-time echo of the ostinato pizzicati to relieve. Only then could the piano’s triplets attempt a reconciliation that merged into a homophonic line before everyone let the music wind down to rare consonance, resigned rather than resolved. Magnificent.
The Finale flew off at a frantic pace, the keyboard now punching out its contributions. The action never let up. Relentless running passages, then rude accents were strewn amongst the trills, pizzicati, snaps and tremoli that even the legato themes couldn’t tame. It took a mighty roll from the drums to corral the ideas—new and remembered—leaving us with a message that certainly resonates in today’s harrowing world.
The earlier part of the concert showcased David’s skills. In the opening Bree, the antiphonal challenges of four quartets sitting separately were handled well and beautifully captured by the CBC’s recording engineer.
The slow movements of Janáček’s Idylle, were rendered with confidence and lovingly shaped, particularly the child-like themes of the first movement, which were brought to life with panache. The faster movements didn’t have the same authority, taking too long to settle into the pulse.
But we’ll never know how the fourth and sixth movements came across, for, unmentioned in the introductory comments, those two vanished into thin air: Listeners beware! JWR