Review: NACO's penultimate program of season lives up to expectations

05.16.12
Colin Currie
Ottawa Citizen

By Richard Todd

REVIEW: National Arts Centre Orchestra

With José Luis Gomez, conductor and Colin Currie, percussion

Southam Hall, National Arts Centre

Reviwed Wednesday May 16.

The National Arts Centre Orchestra's penultimate program of the season included four works. One of them, James MacMillan's Veni, Veni Emmanuel, was new to this listener and, I should imagine, almost everyone else in the audience.

Nevertheless, on the world stage it is uncommonly popular for a modern concerto. It has been performed almost 500 times since its 1992 debut and percussionist Colin Currie, this week's soloist, has himself done it about 120 times.

It's a big work, a kind of concerto-fantasia on the 15th-century Advent hymn that in English we call O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Although it is a sound work, audiences would probably find it less accessible if it were not for the spectacular virtuosity required of the percussion soloist.

In any case, it received a standing ovation after Wednesday's performance. Currie really was impressive.

Earlier the program opened with Rossini's ever-popular Overture to the Barber of Seville. This is a work that every orchestra can play standing on its head, but there was freshness of feeling to the performance, making it easy to overlook the extreme familiarity of the score. Spanish Conductor José Luis Gomez and the orchestra made it sound youthful and spring-like.

This no doubt appropriate for the overture to a comic opera; on the other hand, one wonders how it would be interpreted if it were remembered in connection with one of the two tragedies with which Rossini had used it. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Next came Haydn's Symphony no. 100 in G, the Military Symphony. In its own way, this symphony is a work of greater substance than the Rossini, but it can benefit from a lightness of touch that works suits both nicely.

Wednesday's performance possessed that and many other virtues. It was high-spirited and well played. The slow movement was especially pleasing with a few unusual, but effective, instances of balance between the instruments.

The evening concluded with Ginastera's ballet suite Estancia. This is a nice piece that demonstrates that the composer knew the music of Stravinsky and Bartók, if he didn’t quite share their genius. The pounding rhythms and often colourful orchestration make the score a crowd-pleaser and always a good way to send the audience home happy.