Silence is Golden


February 20, 2010

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Bill Eddins, Conductor

Karen Gomyo, Violin

Haydn: Symphony No. 88
Bartok: Violin Rhapsody No. 1
Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Piazzola: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires 

Sometimes it’s the silence that hits you hardest.

Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of brilliant music this weekend when the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra presented a program of Haydn, Bartok, Stravinsky and Piazzola with guest violinist Karen Gomyo.  The orchestra was in top form, and Ms. Gomyo was captivating to watch and a treat listen to.  Her high calibre of playing led the way for a solid performance.

The concert opened with Hadyn’s Symphony No. 88.  After a slow introduction that felt a little unsteady and aimless, the orchestra launched into the first movement allegro with a strong, unified sound that held up for the rest of the evening.  But it was the largo second movement that really caught my attention, and this is where the absence of sound made an impact on me.  Broad, lyrical melodies wafted out of the orchestra, but each musical thought was given time to breath before moving on to the next gorgeous idea.  This silence that hung in the air at the end of phrases caught my breath, taking advantage of the rich power of suspense.

The ESO also deserves hearty thanks for putting Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments on the program.  This isn’t the most intuitive piece to play, and it’s a treat to have the opportunity to hear it.  Silence was key in this piece as well – groups of instruments played off each other, and pauses in the musical dialogue added character and quirkiness.  My only fault with this performance was the lack of emotional pull; Stravinsky’s music is often viewed as dry and stark, and many interpretations lean in that direction.  I thought there was ample opportunity to set up greater mood contrast in sections that seemed ripe for a build in tense energy or relaxation into languid brooding.

Karen Gomyo was the star of the stage, joining the orchestra for Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 in the first half and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires to wrap up the show.  Bartok’s Rhapsody is enchanting, with its Hungarian flair and rustic pull.  I was impressed at the level of confidence from both the orchestra and soloist; this gave Ms. Gomyo space to bend her own part and find its true Gypsy flavour without sending the accompanying ensemble into a tizzy.

Piazzola originally wrote the Cuatro estaciónes porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) as separate pieces for the small ensemble he played with; it has been arranged for orchestra and is now generally performed as a cycle of four movements.  The music is very descriptive, drawing on South American rhythm and musical traditions to evoke humid afternoon strolls and late evening tango.  Again, Ms. Gomyo was superb, pulling gritty flavour out of wailing melodies and grinding rhythms.  This, I thought, is truly music of the people, the music of life.  In timely fashion, and in spite of the concert hall’s thick walls, the wailing siren on stage was joined by another in the street outside, calling to mind the grit and everyday life just on the other side of our tuxedos and taffeta.  As I left the concert, the flashing lights of a waiting ambulance around the corner were all too keen a reminder that the music of life is on our own doorstep every day.

This was a moving concert, and in case you missed Karen Gomyo’s stellar performance, conductor Bill Eddins announced that she’ll be back in the fall for Symphony Under the Sky.

Next up for the ESO, an Olympic tribute on February 25.  Don’t miss it!

more in Music Feature     |     posted Feb 22nd, 2010 at 1:33pm     

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