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Regal and exotic performance by KW SymphonyRegal and exotic performance by KW Symphony

Stefan Jackiw
The Record

By Stephen Preece

Take your pick – regal British finery, radiant and forthright; or the exotic charm of Russian romanticism, round and luscious. Both were on display Friday night as the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony welcomed guest conductor James Judd to the Centre in the Square.

Edward Elgar’s concert overture Froissart (Op. 19), a 12 minute evocative tone poem, was an excellent start, introducing the British sensibility that would come around later after intermission.

The piece was inspired by the 14th century chronicles of Jean Froissart, dealing with the first half of the 100 years war, and expounding on the emergence of British chivalry. The opening notes had a pastoral feeling of daybreak, gently awakening with the emergence of the strings, the woodwinds, and the brass. A sudden crash from the tympani, invoked a forward march into heraldic themes built and shared throughout the orchestra, only to end as soon as it started.

Judd seemed much in his element, coaxing a fine reading from the orchestra with vim and vigour almost expanding the piece beyond its own skin.

Next appearing on stage was the youthful-looking Stefan Jackiw, 26 who with his gangly frame and unkempt bangs, looked more the part of first recital than one to tackle the herculean challenges of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major (Op. 35).

From the first note of his violin, however, there was no question he was made for the part. Relentlessly challenging, a gruelling half hour of non-stop virtuosity, Jackiw poured his whole body and soul into the piece.

The extraordinary violinist demonstrated a rare physical acuity, his long and sinuous fingers engaging each note with precision and purpose, whether they were couched in cadenzic flurry, or soaring high above the orchestra’s foundation. The appeal of Jackiw’s playing was his ability to feel crisp and solid, while at the same time displaying a supple sense of elasticity and breadth. This transcendence of technique enabled a full measure of expressiveness throughout this lush and demonstrative work.

Highlights included extending into the upper reaches of the stratosphere during solo parts of the first movement – notes you can barely believe exist that high, clean and delicately bright. The second movement, with its wonderfully melancholy canzonetta, as well as the exuberant and exotic Russian dance, were sumptuous and arousing.

This piece also featured the highly talented winds section of the KWS – the clarinet echoing the bohemian melodies of the soloist, and the entire winds section providing a lovely counterweight for the concerto.

After intermission, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 in D Major restored composure, at least initially, as the orchestra luxuriated in a wonderfully-extended suspension, grounded by the lower strings and progressively interwoven with the rest of the orchestra.

There were intensifying sections of tension and chaos – an off-beat and tempestuous scherzo, and even the spindling thematic unravelling of the first movement – though the overarching appeal of this piece was in the serene moments of quiet and peace. The soft and dwindling ease into nothingness out of the third Romanza movement was breathtaking.