VSO and Dame Evelyn Glennie

Dates and Venue 24 and 26 May 2008 @ 8 pm | The Orpheum Theatre

De Falla Three-Cornered Hat: Suite No. 2 Hatzis Tongues of Fire for Percussion and Orchestra Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2 in C minor

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie

Reviewer J H Stape


Dame Evelyn rocks! No stranger to VSO programming, this phenomenon of the concert stage -- a deaf percussionist who has made percussion a solo instrument in serious music -- always has something musically new to say, bringing a work specially commissioned for her mega-talent.

This concert, no exception to her regular visits, had the packed-out audience -- at least metaphorically speaking --both gasping for breath and bopping in the aisles during Greek composer Christos Hatzis's sprawling, deeply emotional Tongues of Fire for Percussion and Orchestra.

The work's title sets its moment and concern: the flames that descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost, but rather than being celebratory, the work explores anguish and crisis, and in an intense second movement inner tranquility. That proves unsustainable but goes deep, as large-scale effects give way to almost unbearable lyrical intensity.

Dame Evelyn was, as ever, on the top of her game, from the rapid-fire explosions of sound of primal character to coaxing out the infinitely small nuances of the vibraphone to goose-bump raising effect.

Visceral and cerebral by turns, the work set up almost relentless challenges for soloist and orchestra. A self-conscious tour de force, Hatzis composition could have been mere gimmickry but turned out to be profoundly moving both in its inventiveness and ideas.

Maesto Tovey urged out a committed and thrilling reading of this piece not for the faint-of-heart, with the VSO delivering every bit as impassioned a performance as that delivered by its soloist-phenomenon.

De Falla's Three-Cornered Hat: Suite No. 2 served as stylishly played warm-up, its Spanish verve and sunny colours brightly polished, and its bold shifts adroitly conveyed. The rendition was almost sultry, Maestro Tovey communicating both the few quieter moments and the dramatic, sun-drenched finale with bravura confidence and gusto.

Music of strongly national character returned to close the programme with Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony (1873; revised 1880) drawing extensively on Ukrainian folk melodies, at times with an almost Mozartean lightness of touch.

The movements revel in contrast, the immensely powerful opening Allegro followed by an Andantino movement of almost excessive charm and elegance, and then by a knowing Scherzo whose easy joyousness almost threatens to become unbridled. The finale, typically confected of large-scale effects, cleverly develops its opening majestic theme, to end, predictably, in showy, powerful, and utterly glorious cascades of sound.

And that, indeed. was the core of this carefully thought programme of highs that seemed never to let up, the audience almost stunned, but going into the summery night wearing smiles of wonderment and satisfaction, and hoping for Dame Evelyn's next call on Vancouver.

© 2008 J H Stape