Review: KW Symphony Back To Baroque

In today’s Record

When you go to 40-plus concerts a year, it is not often that you are surprised.

Some are life-altering and some are disappointing but most are a pleasant way to spend an evening. The very best scenario is having your expectations transformed into something altogether more interesting.

Wednesday night’s concert, the last concert of the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony’s Back to Baroque series, did precisely that. did precisely that.

The concert opened with the ubiquitous Canon in D by Pachelbel, a piece that has about as much artistic merit as a cameraphone snap of the neighbour’s cat. Alain Trudel, conductor of the soon-to-be-defunct CBC Radio Orchestra, did a remarkable job of making something out of nothing. Phrases were nicely shaped and the sprightly tempo gave the forward momentum the piece desperately needs. The rarely played Gigue that accompanies the Canon provided a nice balance.

Horn concertos are played far less often than they should be but, on this night, we were spoiled for choice. The first one, played by the symphony’s principal horn Martin Limoges was the lovely Horn Concerto in D major (TWV 51:D8) by Telemann. The first and last movements are jolly enough but the real gem of the concerto is the largo. It is, for all intents and purposes, an opera aria perched at the very top of the horn’s range. There is no room for error in this part of the instrument and Limoges triumphed with beautifully expressive tone to boot.

Georg Muffat’s concerto grosso Cors Vigilans was relatively unremarkable, with the last movement allegro the most interesting of the bunch. Its weak beat accents gave the whole thing the feeling of walking on land after spending a long time at sea.

Limoges returned with second horn Katherine Robertson, for Telemann’s Concerto for 2 Horns in D (TWV 52:D2). The thematic material is significantly less interesting than the first concerto, likely because it was written for amateur players more accustomed to chasing foxes than playing indoors with an orchestra. Nevertheless, it was lovely to hear Robertson in a solo capacity. Her sound is focused but warm in all parts of the horn and it is a shame we don’t get to hear more of it.

In the first movement of W.F. Bach’s Sinfonia in F major, Trudel opted for an approach that highlighted the silences. It was a good idea in theory, the effect, however, was somewhat spoiled by sloppy ensemble. The andante is overlong but Trudel’s emphasis on beautifully shaped phrases kept it interesting and his efforts to emphasize the rests here were more successful. The third and fourth movements are extremely pleasant, making the whole Sinfonia well worth a trip to the record shop.

J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (BWV 1046) could well be called, without much exaggeration, the third horn concerto of the evening. Scored for strings, two horns, three oboes and bassoon, the Concerto is a marvel of Baroque orchestration.

Horns, oboes and strings are treated as separate voices, which, for technical reasons having to do with the original instruments not having any valves, means the horns have to spend a significant amount of time in the stratosphere. The piece is notoriously difficult but Limoges and Robertson were up to the challenge, shining brightly in the last movement. James Mason, Richard Dorsey, Faith Levene and Cedric Coleman also distinguished themselves in the first trio of final movement, scored only for three oboes and bassoon.

The ensemble suffered in the second movement, perhaps due to Trudel’s eschewing of a baton, but overall, the piece was full of life and an exciting finale for the Back to Baroque season.

Note to local readers: Subscriptions for the 2008/09 Baroque and Beyond Series are available now.


  1. You can hate the Pachelbel if you want to, but it does have a great deal of merit as composition. Writing a strict three-part canon over a ground is not easy, and making it interesting is really difficult.

  2. Miss Mussel

    I think it’s fair to say it has technical merit but as for artistic I don’t think it has that much to offer (obvs). Also, if the performer has to work so hard to make it interesting, perhaps the piece doesn’t work as well as it should?

  3. Actually, all the performers have to do to make the Pachelbel interesting is play well–play the right notes in tune, make a good sound, blend, and stay in rhythm. The beauty of the piece is how good it can sound without the need to do anything to it at all. The statement I made above about “making it interesting” has to do with the achievement of Pachelbel as a composer.

  4. I’ve gotta say I’m with Elaine on this – and that’s speaking as someone who used to play the cello part at countless weddings and other gigs. I think it’s a really beautiful piece, remarkably elegant and flexible. It’s also a nice way to teach principles of counterpoint to non-musicians because the canonic writing is so direct and yet not too obvious. It beats talking about “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

  5. Miss Mussel

    Oh dear! Looks as if I’m outvoted. Anyone out there available to come to my rescue?

    I’ve never played it, as a far as I can remember, at least. Perhaps I have just heard too many cheesy versions and it’s ruined for me.

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