Concert Hall, QPAC
May 12, 2018
Nowadays, Barber’s Violin Concerto is a concert staple. Commissioned by Samuel Fels, the work had a difficult birth. Fels was highly critical of Barber’s efforts, but was perhaps over protective because the concerto was intended for his son to perform. Regardless, Barber copped hefty, sometimes irreconcilable, feedback. At one stage, Fels complained it wasn’t virtuosic enough in the first two movements, but, overly so in the third, a perpetuum mobile, where the soloist drives pointy triplets, at immense speed along treacherous highways.
The Orava Quartet and concert pianist Piers Lane sported snazzy socks on stage. Chad Hoopes, the 23-year-old concerto soloist, stepped out in glittery shoes that irresistibly glistered under stage lights. Eye-catching sparklers, befitting a player The Washington Post cited as, “hurtling toward international stardom.”Anyhow, the audience weren’t watching Hoopes’ feet, at least not in the first and second movements, because Hoope’yearning violin soared, sang, sobbed and whispered in stunning tone. The second movement’s introductory oboe solo beautifully executed by Sarah Meagher and later reprised by solo violin was ideal as a vehicle for Hoopes to showcase his exquisite tone and heartfelt sentiment. In the third movement, the soloist powered through technical challenges with panache.
The program celebrated QSO’s strings in a selection of music that revealed this section’s impressive versatility. Schmidt’s brief Intermezzo from the opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the concert’s opener, grabbed attention instantly, revelling in the Strings’ gift for shaping sweeping, romantic lines. Unusually, Schmidt’s work doesn’t track the climb towards a plateau of gleeful resolution but begins there. The winning brightness of tone conductor Stanley Dodds coaxed from the strings created a heightened awareness of the section paving the way for Barber.
Orchestral concerts can be appreciated in multiple ways. Some dream, some doze, others who reflect on the music’s architecture and many engage emotionally. Those in the crowd who were low in energy would have found their flagging reserves supra-charged during Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. The strings’ crisply pulsed unison at the start, still rings in this reviewers’ head.
Dodds’ vision was fresh. Compelling. He steered the orchestra through densely layered, rapidly changing orchestration with a reassuring control and precision. Incredibly detailed, Dodds illuminated a hushed glimmer in closing a phrase, to the spooky muted trumpets and French horns in the second dance, to the menace of diabolical witchery in the finale. The performance was enjoyable, an inspired tour through a brilliantly orchestrated gem. Dodds’ skill as a conductor is impressive. He motivates players and makes the audience really listen.