Concert Hall, QPAC
August 4, 2018

Orchestras are hierarchical. This mighty ensemble has been compared to an army. The conductor is the powerhouse general, the concertmaster second in command. The upper and lower strings, by far the largest section, are sorted into rank and file. Orchestral players are the foot soldiers obliged to deliver the grand vision of the conductor.

But this program’s repertoire from Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks scored for 15 instruments, informed by Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, enabled the audience to appreciate individual instrumental voices. It was great to hear clarinetist Irit Silver, bassoonist Nicole Tait and double bassist Phoebe Russell perform in a smaller chamber context.

The driver behind the selection of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, despite it being a wonderful work presumably, was because of the way Bartók democratised and broke down orchestral hierachies by featuring solos right across the orchestra.

Talking of soloists, Sergio Tiempo was sensational in Rachmaninov’s colossal Third Piano Concerto. The intense challenge of the piano part can make a sorry victim of the soloist. But not in Tiempo’s case, who had the virtuosic challenges nailed yet consistently directed towards pathos. Demanding though the big and scampered chordal flurries were, the clarity of the melodic line, accents and harmonic nuance was superb. Meaning flowed through Tiempo’s fingertips and never more so than in the light and feathery tender passages. His charismatic persona and luminous exploitation of the Concerto’s mood swings ensnared the audience who were swept up in Tiempo’s insightful pianistic might from start to finish.

To her credit, the conductor Alondra de la Parra, enabled Tiempo to tailor the Concerto his way. De la Parra and the soloist’s rapport was palpable and the orchestral sections accompanied attentively, provided colour, wove in and out of the soloist’s reaches, responded to the pianist’s strident calls, especially the invigorating brass in the third movement, and soared admirably when required as the predominant voice. A standing ovation and extended applause greeted this unforgettable performance.

The lucid account of Bartók’s 5-movement masterpiece, Concerto for Orchestra (1943/5), which the composer penned while exiled in America was also enjoyable. Perhaps the opening could have shimmered with more mystery. Yet the nattering, chomping folksy elements were bold and sassy and delivered the insistent rhythmical precision required. Bartok regarded the Concerto as a “symphony-like orchestral work” which journeys from the firm authority of the first movement, the death-song of the third through to the live-affirming finale. Virtuosic solos, which included for instance violin, piccolo, oboe, double bass and snare were admirable but sometimes the overall coherence of the work underwhelmed. Yet, the performance ended in a hearty blaze with gloriously triumphant brass.

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