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An Afternoon in Central Europe

Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra
Yariv Aloni, conductor
University Centre Auditorium
November 25, 2012

By Deryk Barker

More than two centuries after their premieres, it is easy to forget - perhaps never even to realise - just how novel and adventurous were the "London" Symphonies of Haydn.

And none more so than the Symphony No.101, the "Clock" (which, if we includes the three lost and/or reconstructed symphonies, should really be No.104).

As H.C. Robbins Landon observed, the "Clock's" many unique features include an opening movement in six-eight time, usually, in the 18th century, reserved for finales; a unique hybrid of rondo and variation form in the andante which gives the symphony its nickname; a minuet - by some measure, the longest in any of the "London" symphonies - with a trio which provides "a delightful view of...a village band in the 1790s" - a precursor of the third movement of Beethoven's "Pastoral"; and a finale which "lays claim to being the greatest symphonic last movement of Haydn's career...there are finales of greater monothematic tension (such as No.103's), of greater wit (such as No.102's), of greater contrapuntal dexterity (such as No.95's): but none in which all these elements are combined with such fantastic virtuosity, such real panache".

Yariv Aloni and the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra opened Sunday's concert - the first of their new season - with a marvellously infectious performance of the "Clock".

While it is true that there was some very slight hesitancy and inaccuracy on the work's very first chord, this was the only time in the entire afternoon that the playing was less than first-rate.

After a nicely misterioso slow introduction, Aloni's temp for the presto seemed slightly measured, but this paid dividends in, for example, the details of inner voices, which are often submerged, and in the overall momentum of the music.

The famous second movement opened with the "ticking" accompaniment, which came with a real bounce. Phrasing throughout was very good and the wind contributions were charming.

Despite the minuet's brisk tempo, there was no sense of insecurity in the syncopated parts and the "sleepy village band" trio was delightful.

After a particularly suave opening, the finale swept all before it in a tide of propulsive energy, to bring the symphony to a thoroughly exciting close.

Smetana's cycle Má Vlast (My Homeland) has always struck me - the celebrated Vltava (Die Moldau) excepted - as somewhat diffuse and discursive music.

Not so in Sunday's performance of From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests, which opened the second half of the programme here.

With its full complement onstage, the orchestra produced a big sound, very well balanced. Aloni's shrewdly-chosen tempos and the overall quality of the playing from all sections successfully papering over any cracks in the structure, the whole culminating in a series of commendably precise closing chords.

Musically speaking, Leo Weiner is an interesting case: while often garnering thematic material folk music sources - unlike his contemporaries Bartók and Kodály, he never collected folksongs himself - his harmonic language remained firmly-rooted in Western European Romanticism.

Which makes for an exceptionally attractive, if perhaps not uniquely personal, style; one can only wonder why his music is not more popular.

Sunday's performance of Weiner's Suite on Hungarian Folk Themes was colourful, extremely well played and ardently persuasive.

Not that it is - technically speaking - easy music and some of the wilder syncopated passages, in the second and fourth movements, are clearly very tricky; yet Aloni and his marvellous youngsters negotiated them with aplomb.

There were simply too many excellent solos to mention, but both winds and brass shone, while the strings produced a full, rich sound throughout.

Although I somehow managed to miss the whole of the GVYO's 2011-12 season (believe me I am still kicking myself) this latest incarnation, with the usual annual injection of new faces - fifteen of them this time around, although had not Aloni encouraged them to stand, it would have been impossible to identify them - is more proof that the GVYO, first under the much-missed János Sándor, now under his worthy protege and successor, can somehow square the circle and keep getting better. And Aloni is proving to be a formidable orchestral trainer - to produce results like this after less that two months of weekly rehearsals is most impressive.

A most rewarding way to spend an autumn afternoon.

a KATHERINE ROGERS design