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Review: The VSO ends its season with flare

06.15.14
Bramwell Tovey
Vancouver Sun

A bold presentation of dramatically different works by Elgar and Respighi

By David Gordon Duke

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra likes to end its seasons in a big way. The final concert of its 95th year was no exception, a bold presentation of two very different but equally dramatic anchor works — Elgar’s rarely heard Violin Concerto and Respighi’s extravagant Pines of Rome.

The Elgar Concerto featured soloist James Ehnes. This proved to be the latest in a sequence of remarkable concerto collaborations between the violinist and the VSO, which has included the lush and lovely violin concertos of Barber and Korngold. The Elgar is in this tradition — well, sort of.

It’s long and very difficult, yet downplays conventional concerto rhetoric. Emotion trumps dialectics throughout; the work’s most memorable passages include a tender Andante and an exquisite (dare one say enigmatic?) finale.

This is not a piece for every soloist or every conductor, but it works magnificently for Ehnes, whose sound and temperament were completely in sync with the piece. Bramwell Tovey was equally committed, taking time to linger over the concerto’s ample beauties and never trying to overheat the proceedings with inappropriate theatrics.

This is not to say that Saturday’s program eschewed the theatrical. The second half was all bright and brassy, starting out with a taut reading of Berlioz’s early Roman Carnival. Ottorino Resphigi’s cinematic Pines of Rome rounded out a full evening.

Respighi crafted a showpiece of virtuoso orchestral writing, stuffed with good tunes and rousing effects. It was designed to please, and please it does. Certainly Saturday’s full house had no trouble appreciating both the pensive, private world of Elgar’s under-performed concerto, then glorying in the brazen delights on offer in Pines of Rome, a season-ender par excellence.