THE OPENING CONCERTS: Dame Evelyn Glennie and The Sitkovetsky Trio
The Sitkovetsky Trio (Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin, Wu Qian, piano, Leonard Eischenbroich, cello), Piano Trios of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Schubert, Chan Centre, September 22, 2013
Dame Evelyn Glennie, percussion, VSO/ Tovey, Works by Peters, Verdi, Hindemith and Ravel, Orpheum, September 28, 2013
The 95th season of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra got under way with a grand sense of occasion. At this concert, both the orchestra and music director Bramwell Tovey were inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. Then Dame Evelyn Glennie, who over the years has single-handedly transformed the percussion repertoire and brought it to life, was on hand to give the world premiere of Winnipeg-born Randolph Peters’ Musicophilia. This is a work inspired by the forbidding topic of neurological disorders but, after a somewhat dissonant start, it actually turned out to be fairly comfortable with many exotic sounds and rhythms set in an almost film music backdrop, the spirit of Respighi and Kurt Weill not far away.
No matter how many times one has seen Evelyn Glennie attack these new works, there is always a renewed sense of awe seeing her in action in her ‘workshop’ of virtually every type of drum, chime, or gong imaginable, truly a setting with all the bells and whistles! Wearing only slippers, and poised like a cat she literally roams around her yard contrasting the most precise, aggressive attacks on one piece of percussion with the most gentle, controlled strokes on another. This could hardly help but be successful; it is a true spectacle! Maestro Tovey and the orchestra admirably finished the programme with lighter fare, a touching moment being when Dame Glennie came on stage and joined in on the snare drum for the closing bars of Ravel’s Bolero.
Fresh off their Wigmore Hall (London) appearance, the young Sitkovetsky Trio opened the Vancouver Recital Society’s season with a demanding programme of three major piano trios. This ensemble has already been acknowledged to have both a command and sensitivity rare in artists so young, and they certainly showed us that. Originally coming together at the Yehudi Menuhin School, and featuring an interesting combination of a Russian/ British violinist, a German cellist, and a pianist from Shanghai, each artist plays so beautifully and with so much commitment, and contributes to an enviable tonal blend.
It would be difficult to find a cleaner and more intelligent performance of Brahms last piano trio, Op. 111. The ensemble was fully sensitive to the expressive demands of ‘late’ Brahms but could also attack with truly Brahmsian weight and fire when needed. Indeed, a very coherent reading, one which flowed with strength but never shied away from the bitterness in the emotional core of the work. The performance of Mendelssohn’s last trio, Op. 66 was somewhat less successful. While there were many moments of beauty here, I felt the ensemble did overload the work slightly, being a little too fervent in the energetic passages and a little too expressive and fulsome in the quieter ones. Amends were certainly made in Schubert’s last and greatest piano trio, Op. 100. After a brisk opening movement, the Sitkovetsky’s really dug in to the haunting Andante that follows, giving us performance of great concentration and emotional strength. The beautiful key modulation at the end was handled superbly, The group also sustained intensity in the long and difficult closing Allegro, integrating its diverse themes in a most imaginative way to build to the strongest culmination.
After this concert, all I could think about the character of each of these musicians: the purity and strength of the violinist, the supple tenderness of the cellist, and the limpid clarity of the piano playing. What a fine balance they achieved and just how closely they listened to each other. The British piano trio legacy was dealt a blow a decade ago when the celebrated Florestan Trio dissolved. Perhaps this will be their eventual replacement.
© Geoffrey Newman 2013