Review: KWS Back To Baroque

In today’s Record

The immensely popular Back To Baroque Series presented by the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony had its first concert Wednesday evening at First United Church in Kitchener. Although the title is a bit misleading & music from the Baroque period is rarely in the majority & it offers listeners a chance to hear pieces that aren’t often programmed in the more formal Signature Series.

The results tend to be a pleasant-enough hodge-podge of throwaway Baroque and classical incidental music leading up to a larger piece at the end. Wednesday night followed the formula to the letter.

First up was a short sonata by Alessandro Scarlatti. He wrote mostly vocal music and after a minute or two it was easy to see why his instrumental works don’t place very high on orchestra repertoire lists. At its best, music from the Baroque is full of life with twists and turns that defy our expectations. At its worst, its rather like 18th century Musak.

Perhaps not receiving as much rehearsal time as they needed, the string sound was rough and unappealing.
It’s always nice to hear orchestra members in a solo capacity, particularly those that play instruments with little concerto repertoire. Ian Whitman, the young principal double bass, impressed with his sweet, subtle sound in Bottesini’s 2nd concerto.

Concerto repertoire does not adhere to the principles of representation by population, meaning that save a few exceptions that prove the rule, most of good ones are written for violin, piano and cello. The reason is that historically players of other instruments (viola, bass, horn, tuba etc) weren’t very good, largely because their parts were boring, so no one wanted to spend time practicing them.

All this to say, that although the Bottesini has its moments, Whitman had to work hard to sell it. Fortunately, he’s a good salesman and what he lacked in flash, he made up for with considered, musical playing.

Sonata No. 6, a piece of juvenilia by Rossini was a nice surprise. Intonation issues ironed themselves out in the third movement, which was meant to depict a raging storm. Had there been moving pictures in the 1830s it would have made an excellent cartoon score.

The jewel of the concert was Respighi’s Trittico Boticelliano. From the first notes the music was immensely more interesting than anything that preceded it and, more importantly, the orchestra sounded like a completely different band. Engaged and, I suspect, better rehearsed the players were finally cooking with gas.

If there was one factor that irretrievably marred the experience, it was the keyboard. The harpsichord sound used in the first half was, while completely inorganic, at least a reasonable facsimile. Coming in well below the standards for acceptable substitutions was the piano sound used in the Respighi. Considering that First United has a grand piano on the premises for its Tuesday At Noon recital series, the choice to use a twenty-year old keyboard is utterly confounding. Admittedly, it’s a tight fit with full orchestra on stage but there must surely be another way to accommodate everyone without compromising quality.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *