In the first concert of its 10th season, The Gallery Players of Niagara demonstrated once again that they are Niagara’s most vibrant, serious-music ensemble, delivering consistency in performance: integrity and dedication apparent in every measure. The all too common, union-limiting “Well, at least we got through it” approach that masquerades as art in many of the world’s concert halls and CD collections is decidedly absent.
Yet, ever-present dangers are twofold: their collective skills will send the core members on to greater heights (think artistic market value); the audience base (a sea of silver or shining heads) will, in time, have to join the Ghost of Rodman Hall to attend—good for the soul but ruin for the box office.
And, as has been opined in these pages before, but can’t be said too often, the venue’s new management is further encouraged to reward both the performers and the listeners for their patience and diligence by (a) retiring and replacing the piano (whose upper register is already in a “better place”) (b) inviting Dave Lennox to “teach” proper concert etiquette to the heating system’s fans so that the pianissimos can be heard rather than imagined (c) investing in seating that will leave the patrons artistically refreshed rather than booking an immediate appointment with their chiropractors.
These suggestions come with a shared love for the art and surety that as the concert experience improves so will the demand.
Daniel Swift, Niagara Symphony Orchestra music director, chose the far-reaching program and was the affable commentator. On paper, it was a veritable buffet of all things French from 1857–1936.
IHeard live, only the work created in the ‘20s managed to captivate from stem to stern—which had less to do with the epoch than Julie Baumgartel’s spectacular reading of Roussel’s gripping Violin Sonata.
Quite simply this was the finest effort heard from Baumgartel to date (her earlier assignment of the Satie Choses was also commendable for its gentle dignity, technically adept mini cadenza, and her unabashedly human reaction to a mute that had a mind of its own!).
With Cécile Desrosiers heroically following every shift and nuance, the powerfully energetic “Allegro con moto” was unleashed, not just played. Then the “Andante” was rendered with compelling lyricism and a fulsome hue even as the piano’s ostinato soldiered on with a fatalism that could trace its origins back to the stark reality that was Roussel’s post-WW I life.
The saucy “Presto,”—happily arrhythmic—burbled along brilliantly with only some of the “slides” being a tad too damp for my taste.
The total effect will be remembered for years to come. With this level of excellence Baumgartel has raised the bar—both for herself and her colleagues. Merci mille fois!
The remainder of the program, through no fault of the practitioners, paled in comparison; none of the works could match the level of emotion and sensation found in the Sonata.
Milhaud’s “Suite” had its moments—especially the Rodeo-like “Jeu” and featured fine “dueting” by Baumgartel and Zoltán Kalman.
Earlier, Kalmán began the proceedings by deftly employing his flexible tone and incredible breath control in Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie, where Desrosiers acquitted herself admirably in the shimmering soundscape; its orchestral version should find its way to Brock for a future Niagara Symphony concert.
Douglas Miller sauntered easily through the peaks and valleys of Casella’s Sicilienne et Burlesque even as the composer’s initial optimism morphed into a disconcerted march whose colour and chords would later find their way into Ibert’s Divertissement.
Miller and Kalmán teamed up for Saint-Saëns’ slight Tarantelle, but their pleasantly jaunty approach (with Desrosiers egging them on) gave none of the insects residing in the walls any cause for concern. JWR