OSO struts its Wag­ner stuff

Ottawa Citizen - - ARTS & LIFE - RICHARD TODD

Ot­tawa Sym­phony Orches­tra David Currie, con­duc­tor, Southam Hall, Na­tional Arts Cen­tre, Mon­day at 8 p.m.

Wag­ner was one of the most im­por­tant rev­o­lu­tion­ary fig­ures in the his­tory of mu­sic. Although his out­put was un­even, he cre­ated some of the most in­spir­ing mo­ments in opera. But some of his half hours are a lit­tle less in­spir­ing. At the very least we can say that con­ci­sion wasn’t among his virtues.

His mas­sive four-opera epic Der Ring des Ni­belun­gen is a case in point. It tells a great story and has a lot of won­der­ful mu­sic in it, but it is 15 hours long.

The Ot­tawa Sym­phony and its con­duc­tor, David Currie, had a so­lu­tion Mon­day evening for those who can’t hack the en­tire Ring. It was a tone poem by Henk de Vi­leger crafted from ex­cerpts and called The Ring of the Ni­belungs — an or­ches­tral ad­ven­ture.

It’s a clever con­coc­tion. The ex­cerpts from Wag­ner form a kind of Coles notes sum­mary of the en­tire cy­cle. The piece gives a big orches­tra a chance to strut its stuff and, as most Ot­tawa mu­sic lovers know, this orches­tra has a lot to strut.

Wag­ner’s love of huge or­ches­tras is re­spected in this pas­tiche. By my count there were 20 brass play­ers on stage and a whole lot of ev­ery other kind of player. (Typ­i­cally there are from four to nine brass in­stru­ments in the stan­dard orches­tra.)

All things con­sid­ered, though, the per­for­mance was a mixed success. The dy­nam­ics were un­sub­tle much of the time and the brass tended to over­bal­ance the strings.

Per­haps the most se­ri­ous short­com­ing was a fail­ure to main­tain an en­dur­ing sense of nar­ra­tive flow. There was a cer­tain stodgi­ness to some sec­tions, most notably the Magic Fire Mu­sic.

Still, there was a lot to en­joy. The big num­bers from Got­ter­dammerung were more pointed and gen­er­ally ef­fec­tive.

While the Ring thing made up the bulk of the pro­gram, two other works were in­cluded. First came a nice read­ing of We­ber’s very slight over­ture to a staged pro­duc­tion of Tu­ran­dot, writ­ten more than a cen­tury be­fore Puc­cini would turn the story into an opera.

The other of­fer­ing was Hin­demith’s Sym­phonic Me­ta­mor­phoses on Themes by We­ber, one of the few of that com­poser’s works to be played with any reg­u­lar­ity th­ese days. The per­for­mance was suit­ably spir­ited and colour­ful.

There weren’t many peo­ple at the con­cert and it was lit­tle won­der. The driv­ing con­di­tions were atro­cious. I came close to los­ing con­trol of my car twice and could eas­ily have been in­volved in an ac­ci­dent. But I made it and was able to en­joy a nice mu­si­cal evening.

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