Angela Cheng, piano; VSO/ Cristian Măcelaru: Music of Enescu, Ravel and Dvořák, Chan Centre, October 20, 2017


The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra shone very brightly in a concert that featured the return of Romanian conductor Cristian Măcelaru with much-loved Canadian pianist Angela Cheng. Măcelaru again brought along the music of Enescu and Dvořák, and his poise, understanding of rustic colour, and gravitas prompted the orchestra to rise to the occasion, performing with both strength and sensitivity. The highlight of the program was undeniably the performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No 5. Angela Cheng’s performance of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major displayed all her usual fine pianism, but ended up short of the transparency and sparkle that one might have expected.

Dvořák’s Fifth Symphony (1875) is the least well known of his ‘famous’ symphonies, and marked a turning point in the compositional style of the composer. Dvořák’s distinctive thematic and rhythmic usage pointed towards a sort of restoration of the classical symphony form – yet set within deeply-felt pastoral feelings and atmosphere.  The opening Allegro might have been given slightly too much dramatic weight and robustness in this performance, but it was well articulated and there could be little doubt that Măcelaru had a great affinity and love for this music. This came out strongly in the Andante: it seemed as if every instrument line shared in the emotional sensitivity of the whole. Mood, feeling, and character matched so naturally as the themes flowed in a long, spinning lines between the voices, as if in a subtly woven quilt. The strings displayed a lovely sensitivity in the softer passages of the following movement too, creating a natural lyricism, full of texture. The finale started with strong energy and command, but soon exhibited real tenderness in exploring its rustic sentiment, again showing the conductor’s ability to balance the varying characters of the work. The symphony ended with superb anticipation and cumulative power.


Although not the musical equal of the symphony, the opening Enescu Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 also showed the orchestra’s ability to produce lyricism and colour. The tonal quality of the woodwinds was especially notable and fit Romanian folk style perfectly. The rhythmic energy of the strings gave the work a dance-like feel and an energy that was always invigourating. Speaking of the winds, I would single out principal flautist Christie Reside for some absolutely glorious moments in her flute solos here and throughout the concert. The tone, character, and deeply meaningful expressivity that Reside brought to her solos did not go unnoticed by the audience.

The Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major is pathbreaking in its strong jazz influence, featuring scintillating rhythmic variety, pointillist colour and sparkle. Angela Cheng demonstrated her ability to draw from a wide, sonorous pallet of pianistic resources, always paying a careful attention to voicing. Sometimes she appeared to float over the keyboard in a very graceful manner. At other times, though, she lacked the lightness and rhythmic clarity needed to reveal the work’s pristine construction and playfulness.  The famous Adagio sustained repose but seemed slightly under-characterized while the finale seemed heavier and less quicksilver than it might. Perhaps, the balance between the piano and orchestra was not completely fine-tuned in this first performance (of three) though the acoustics the Chan Centre may have also played a role. The bass resonance felt too heavy throughout, amplifying the orchestra’s weight, and detracting from the sparkle and caprice needed.

Nonetheless, a fine addition to a convincing and thoughtful program under the shining direction of Cristian Măcelaru – and a particularly auspicious outing for the orchestra.


© Emily Logan 2017

EMILY LOGAN is currently a student in the Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance program at UBC, where she studies with Terence Dawson and Rena Sharon. She grew up in Moncton, NB, and was the winner of the Zoya Solod Piano Scholarship and the New Brunswick Piano Competition. Her piano trio placed 2nd at the National Music Festival in 2013. She has given numerous recitals and her doctoral research is in the area of performance psychology.