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Symphony and One-and-a-half Concertos
Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra
Eehjoon Kwon, violin
Liam Caveney, trombone
Yariv Aloni, conductor
University Centre Auditorium
April 21, 2013
By Deryk Barker
In his seminal work Bluff Your Way Through Music (my constant inspiration, lo! these twenty-one years), Peter Gammond, introducing the music of Gustav Maher, says that he "did not long boring symphonies of the Brahms type".
It is a remark which must, of course, be understood in context: Gammon was writing in the mid-60s, we were all in the process of discovering Bruckner and Mahler, the ultra-modernist William Glock was Controller of Music at the BBC and Brahms was distinctly "old news". (And, of course, the book was intended to be humourous.) Nonetheless, it must be admitted that, even today, in the wrong hands a symphony by Brahms can seem, well, long and boring.
Not that anybody who has ever heard Yariv Aloni and the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra would have had any qualms about Sunday's programme, which closed with Brahms' Symphony No.2. These hands are as far from being the wrong ones as can be imagined and, in the event, the symphony seemed, if anything, rather short.
This Brahms 2 was not one of those performances in which every tempo, every detail seemed perfect judged; it may not be the only way to play the music, but it certainly seemed so at the time.
The symphony's opening was beautifully textured, the development section made it clear that this is serious music, and there was considerable inner detail - in, for example, the violas - which I had never noticed before.
The remaining movements flew by (not literally), with a wealth of detail and some beautiful playing from all sections - what a fine incarnation of the orchestra this is! - all leading, inevitably, to a blazing final coda, which brought a well-deserved storm of applause.
The first half of the programme featured two exceptional members of the orchestra in solo rôles.
One might confuse the opening few bars of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.1 with those of the Sibelius concerto: shimmering viola tremolandos supporting a lyrical solo entry. But a few more bars, with their angular melodic lines, reveals the true composer.
Eehjoon Kwon, normally the orchestra's concertmaster (a rôle she resumed for the Brahms) played exceptionally, from her initial, confident entry to the closing bars; her tone was lovely and her way with the music most convincing. As was the accompaniment, Aloni adroitly managing the tempo changes, the orchestra producing a rich, full sound.
I must admit my primary interest in Launy Grøndahl was as a conductor (his pioneering 1951 account of Nielsen's "Inextinguishable" Symphony remains, in many ways, unsurpassed).
It turns out that he was a fine composer as well and his Trombone Concerto is surely worth more than the very occasional outing.
The work opens with a fairly abrupt gesture - throughout the piece there were at least nods in the direction of Nielsen - followed by a perhaps surprisingly lyrical solo. Liam Caveney proved the master of the concerto, a most attractive work. He displayed a fine attractive, mellow tone and marvellously agile technique.
The Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra and its Music Director continue to go from strength to strength.