Concert Hall, QPAC
April 14, 2018
Alexander Prior is 25-years-old. Currently the Chief Conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra as well as a highly commissioned composer, he conducted An Emotional Rollercoaster (dubbed Dynamic Duo in the Morning Masterworks series on Friday when the program was performed sans Debussy) with the visionary insight and polished skill of superstar veterans like Simon Rattle.
Prior’s towering height and personality-plus as he bowed on the podium inspired confidence. The concert didn’t gradually ease into life as so many can do, but flourished and captured the audience from the very first tone of the solo flute’s introductory mellow melody.
Prior’s synergy with the orchestra was inspired. His command of Debussy’s Prelude a’ L’Apres-midi d’un faune revelled in the music’s dreamy ambience, elastic rhythms, lightly nuanced strings and moments of repose. Debussy’s symphonic poem unfolded with a refreshing and seductive spontaneity. In top form, the strings, French horns and woodwind excelled in highlighting the composer’s impressionistic wash of vibrant colour.
Pianist Sergio Tiempo. Photo © Sussie Ahlburg
To say that Sergio Tiempo, the orchestra’s current artist-in-residence, is an exciting player is an understatement. His take on Ginastera’s blistering First Piano Concerto with its folksy intent, dancerly currents and pointy challenge was extraordinary. In the cadenza of the first movement, the brass interacted with Tiempo’s fiery figurations with aplomb. The pianist’s seamless shifts between tenderness and fury, incisive commentary and treacherous chases up and down the length and breadth of the piano in the variations dovetailed superbly with a precision powered orchestra. His thrilling prowess in the Toccata Concertata with its slashed, punched and ferociously crunched rhythm was breathtaking.
Brahms Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op. 98, showed Prior’s flair for shaping grand architecture, his inventive, meaningful phrasing and attention to detail. The first theme in the Allegro non troppo had an infectious lilt and spring and the conductor coaxed amazing crescendos that grew and grew and kept on giving. All sections played with crystal clarity. The woodwinds’ extroverted lyricism impressed and the strings sang beautifully throughout. Solo horn in the Andante Moderato was world-class and viola champions must have been charmed by Imants Larsens’ melting viola solo in the third movement.
High standards are expected from professional orchestras and concerto soloists but this concert was unforgettable, a stunner. Perhaps the event should have been dubbed Dynamic Trio because conductor, soloist and orchestra excelled in executing this program of contrasts and extremes and wowed the crowd.